Seattle’s Babes in Canyon Release Storm-Born Debut EP

On February 24, Babes in Canyon, a new Seattle band made up of music scene veterans Nathan Hamer and Michelle Nuño and keyboardist/vocalist Amanda Ebert, released their airy, transporting indie debut, Second Cities.

Babes in Canyon, which was born from a particularly thrilling, stormy night Hamer and fiancee Ebert spent without power in a cabin in the Washington woods, represents a new creative phase centered on unfiltered expression, defined by their connection to the environment of the Pacific Northwest.

Hamer has long been on the Seattle music scene as a member of the folk-pop band, Kuinka, which he formed with his brother in 2013. With Kuinka, Hamer toured and performed for years, and while he’s still in the group now, he’s been looking for other musical outlets recently.

“During the pandemic, I just really felt the calling to write some in a different style. Something a bit more raw. I just needed to express some emotions I had been feeling,” remembers Hamer.

Hamer and Ebert met during their college years at Pace University, and in 2018 Ebert moved to Washington so they to be together. As Hamer toured and played with Kuinka, Ebert, who works in film production, watched from the sidelines, all the while missing playing and singing herself.

“I was in a band in high school that I was very into. I played keys and sang,” says Ebert. “It had been 15 years since I had been in a band and I always really wanted to do it again, so when Nathan and I reconnected and I moved out to Washington and we started writing music together.”

One weekend during the pandemic, they decided to retreat into a cabin in the woods of Acme, Washington, for some focused songwriting time. While they were there a major windstorm hit, felling trees and knocking out their power. Stranded in the cabin, the pair wrote new songs by candlelight and decided to form Babes in Canyon.

“A whole different [creative] process came out of that night, being trapped in that cabin,” says Hamer. “I instantly found it incredible that I could have these melodies in my head and hum them and then suddenly Amanda has pages of lyrics that fit so perfectly. I felt like I had a superpower in partnering with Amanda. It was so quick and easy and free.”

“The Wolf,” one of the folkier songs from the debut EP, was written that night in its entirety. It features a baritone ukulele backbone, sweet harmonies between Hamer and Ebert, and melancholic lyrics that touch on themes of loneliness and isolation.

“That song for me was inspired by a couple years ago when I moved to L.A. [where] I actually worked in tech,” says Ebert. “I [took] inspiration from a time in my life where against better advice decided to go it alone.”

With a few songs written on their cabin excursion, Hamer and Ebert tapped their long-time friend and drummer Nuño and asked her to join them in Babes in Canyon. Turns out, Nuño, who had spent years playing drums in many different groups (including Kuinka, Moon Darling, and Thunderpussy) in many different styles, was also game for something new since learning how to play bass over the pandemic.

“I was looking for a different kind of creative outlet. Something where I could express myself melodically, because you can’t really do that with drums,” says Nuño.

As a band, the three members share a really strong connection to nature in this region, and that passion also saturates Babes in Canyon, giving Second Cities a unique blend of elegant pop melody and the rugged rawness of forest-born folk. Aside from influencing their sound, nature also defined their late-night recording process at Hamer and Ebert’s two-story home and farm in Mount Vernon, Washington.

For a full week during the recording process, Hamer and Ebert hosted Nuño and producer Jerry Streeter, known for his work with Brandi Carlisle, on the farm and recorded in the same way they wrote the songs—late at night, away from the bustle of the city, and surrounded by the natural world.

“I feel like nature and night time both provide settings where your mind and your emotions are a little bit more raw and less bogged down by whatever is happening in the day. I feel like being in nature and writing at nighttime has helped us kind of clear away whatever layers of inhibition or resistance there might be and be creative,” explains Ebert. The result is the refreshing folk-tinged indie rock of Second Cities, as lush as the Pacific Northwest expanse it’s inspired by.

Follow Babes In Canyon on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Zookraught Brings Punk Chaos to Conor Byrne

Three-piece punk band Zookraught is in full “chaos mode,” as they call it. The explosive collective has been gaining momentum in recent months, and they don’t show any signs of slowing down.

Comprised of bassist/vocalist Steph Jones, drummer/vocalist Baylee Harper, and guitarist/vocalist Sam Frederick, Zookraught released their debut EP in 2022 and have been playing more notable shows of late, like a recent tour kickoff show for punk band Monsterwatch at Tractor Tavern.

As well, the group locked down a spot on the lineup of Seattle-based music festival Belltown Bloom, and come February 3rd, they’ll be playing a big show at Conor Byrne with Bad Optics and a new group called Stetson Heat Seeker, which features Ian Reed and Obi of the now-defunct Actionesse.

“Actionesse was huge for me when I first moved here… I just fell in love with them immediately,” says Jones.

Jones grew up in Boise, Idaho, and moved to Seattle in 2014 with her hometown band, Fivestar. Soon after arriving here, she immersed herself in the music community and quickly began playing with another band called The Morning After, a self-described “angry and socio-politically charged hard-rock” band.

It was in the The Morning After that Jones first met Baylee Harper, who played drums in the band, and the two immediately hit it off. When The Morning After dissolved in 2019, Jones and Harper formed Zookraught.

“Baylee and I… still want[ed] to play music together,” says Jones. “We started jamming together but then the pandemic hit… We kind of just sat on our little project for a while and then when shows started happening again we were like, ‘We have to get our shit together so we can get back on stage.'”

At first a four-piece collective, Zookraught started out as bass, drums, and saxophone, with the aim of bringing a quirky sound and energy. Their first EP, Like A Rotten Zucchini, added angular guitar melodies, to driving saxophone, prog rock effects, and the high-energy emotion of punk, and explored everything from political issues to personal relationships.

For instance, the EP’s saxophone-driven Klezmer-esque hard rock track, track, “Plastic World,” explores climate change, shifting the blame from the people to unregulated Capitalism. “It’s about how it’s not the consumer’s fault,” explains Jones. “We should not be blaming ourselves for climate change. There’s nothing we can really do. The government tries to place all the blame on us.”

On the other hand, Like A Rotten Zucchini also featured more lighthearted and straight-forward tracks like “Hunny Fuckit,” which captures the friendship between Jones and Harper.

“That was a silly, fun song that we just wrote one day when we were feeling really goofy and it has become a fan favorite. People love that song,” says Jones, adding that there’s a great fan video for the track.

Still, much of the first EP featured music written before Frederick entered the band as a permanent member, and before their full-time saxophonist stepped down, so the music they’re making nowadays has taken a slight departure from the debut EP. Now a traditional three-piece of bass, drums, and guitar, Zookraught’s writing has taken a heavier turn and incorporates more dance punk elements since adding Frederick. The group shouts out early ’90s rock band Brainiac, post-hardcore group Ex Models, and Sacramento rockers !!! (Chk Chk Chk) as major influences.

With this fine-tuned sound and a collective songwriting approach, the group is currently working on a new 6-song EP they plan to have out in summer 2023. They’re also preparing for a West Coast tour starting in March 2023, leading up to Belltown Bloom in May.

“We are so excited to play Belltown Bloom. We were supposed to play it last year and then Baylee got COVID the day of the show and we had to drop out literally a couple hours before our set was supposed to start,” says Jones. “[Belltown Bloom founders] Veronica and Valerie are just the nicest people ever and we are so excited to be working with them on that festival.”

For now, Zookraught is revving up for their February 3rd show at Conor Byrne. It’s officially a birthday show for Jones, but it’s also the perfect gift for fans awaiting a preview of their updated sound.

“We definitely have a lot of elements of punk, we have elements of dance music, especially with Sam,” says Jones. “All three of us are singing now and all three of us switch off on singing lead and it’s a very collaborative writing process these days. There’s not one clear-cut person as the lead songwriter. We are all the songwriters.”

Follow Zookraught for ongoing updates.

Whitney Ballen Kicks Off Next Musical Phase with Show at Sunset Tavern

In 2018, on the heels of her full length album You’re a Shooting Star, I’m a Sinking Ship, singer songwriter Whitney Ballen and her band were gaining momentum in Seattle. Thanks the ongoing pandemic, Ballen’s name has been noticeably absent from venue calendars, but she’s been writing new material—and on Saturday, January 14th, Ballen plays her first show back with her full band at Sunset Tavern where she will showcase new songs, and old favorites.

Ballen, who was raised in Redmond, found her footing as a singer songwriter by becoming a regular at the Old Fire House Teen Center, an all-ages arts hub known as “The Firehouse” that has played a key role in exposing teens to music on Seattle’s Eastside for more than 25 years.

“Modest Mouse. Death Cab for Cutie. Gossip. Botch. Death Cab for Cutie and all of their side projects. Rocky Votalato. All of these groups played The Firehouse early on,” Ballen rattles off, adding that her first-ever live show was seeing a local band called Arabian Nightmare at The Firehouse when she was around 13.

Around the same time, Ballen developed an interest in guitar and writing songs on her own, and by the 9th grade, staff at The Firehoue invited her to play her first ever show there. From there, Ballen’s interest in songwriting and performing snowballed.

Once in college at University of Washington, Ballen put together her first band. That band has evolved and grew in popularity over the years, as fans leaned into Ballen’s honest songwriting and unique, childlike voice, which has been compared to Joanna Newsom.

“I would just say that most of the songs that I’m writing…there’s not really any filter to them. It’s not any kind of act or anything. It’s real,” Ballen says.

In March 2020, Ballen and her band were just returning from a big tour in support of You’re a Shooting Star, I’m a Sinking Ship. “We played our last show in Dallas and flew home and the next day it feels like things started shutting down. So, we were on this high of playing the biggest shows we had ever played. We were so excited for what was next and it was like, ‘oh, nevermind.’ It was kind of a bummer,” Ballen recalls.

Quickly, the world shut down and for many months Ballens says she struggled to be creative. Her music went on hold for a while as she worked for her family’s business, a bagel shop in Redmond called Blazing Bagels, and earned a certificate in nutrition, something she was always interested in.

“I definitely wrote some songs during the pandemic for sure but because I wasn’t playing or practicing with my band just because I wasn’t, I didn’t really do anything with them,” Ballen says, noting that the pandemic lent a specific songwriting mood. The songs she wrote at that time all center around grief.

“During the pandemic I lost my cat of 17 years and both of my grandparents all in the same year,” Ballen explains. “So the songs I wrote aren’t necessarily the most happy.”

But, if they’re anything like her previous songs, that sadness won’t take away from their beauty and may in fact help listeners to further understand their own struggles. Ballen’s 2018 debut LP, which focused on the idea of comparing one self to others, particularly the curated images of others we get through social media, had that sort of bittersweet affect.

“I feel like the last album was very heavy on comparing myself to other things and what my reality is versus what maybe others’ vision of my reality is,” says Ballen. “The band and I have been practicing new songs and we even have a handful of new songs that we were playing during our tour that will eventually go on to the next record.”

At The Sunset on Saturday, Ballen will perform some of the songs from her 2018 debut LP, as well as some of these pandemic newbies. She’ll perform that night with her longtime guitarist Sam Peterson, drummer Ian McCutcheon, and her partner Jay Clancy on bass, who plays in the band Sloucher and is filling in as Ballen looks for a permanent bassist.

After the downtime during the pandemic, Ballen is looking forward to heading into the studio with her new material soon, and overjoyed to get back to the stage.

“I always say that if I have to spend a lot of time writing something then it doesn’t seem genuine to me. I’m just doing exactly what comes to my head. I never sit down to write songs, it just happens… That goes for the performance as well,” says Ballen. “I’m just going to straight up perform the way that I’m feeling.”

Follow Whitney Ballen on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Drone Rockers somesurprises to Debut New Songs at Ronette’s Psychedelic Sock Hop

An immigration lawyer by day and mastermind behind Seattle ambient rock collective somesurprises by night, Natasha El-Sergany – born in Ireland, raised partly in the UK, and has lived throughout the U.S. – is not your average Seattle rocker.

The music of somesurprises is a unique combination of sounds from her various homes: the German rock and Brit-pop soundtracking her childhood in England; bands she loved while in high school in Florida, like Radiohead and Elliott Smith; the narrative songwriting and twang native to the American South where she lived in in her twenties; the DIY ethos she’s devoured while living in Seattle for the last 12 years.

All of El-Sergany’s moving around—and the connection between the bandmembers—impacts the distinctive, drone-heavy amalgamated sound of somesurprises. They’re first on the bill at Ronette’s Psychedlic Sock Hop this Saturday, November 5th, followed by Purest Feeling from New York City, American Culture from Denver, and Tomten.

Somesurprises, which includes El-Sergany on vocals, guitar, and organ, Josh Medina on guitar and synth, Nico Sophiea on drums, and Laura Seniow on bass, began as a solo project of El-Sergany, who is self-taught on her instruments and wrote her first song at the age of 14.

“I [started] on the keyboard and and then I started playing guitar because I visited my cousin… and she had a guitar,” says El-Sergany. “She taught me some chords and I learned, like, Coldplay songs. And I was always really into the experience of listening to recorded music when I was growing up. I remember having a cassette player in England – I had this like ’60s compilation that had some Beatles songs on it. Just listened to it on repeat all the time.”

For El-Sergany, songwriting and playing music has been a constant since early childhood, though she didn’t study it in college. Instead, she studied creative writing and pre-med and then shifted to law, which is what she does now.

Nine years ago, after graduating college in Florida and living briefly in the Carolinas, Virginia, and Georgia, El-Sergany fixed her eyes on Seattle — both because it had work opportunities in law and because it had a buzzing DIY music scene.

“When I came to Seattle, I… quickly formed a noise trio with a couple of musicians in the noise scene. And then decided I wanted to focus more on writing songs. I wanted to just like work by myself for a while,” says El-Sergany. “That’s when Josh [Medina] and I met and formed the ambient duo.”

They called their duo somesurprises, and put out a tape called serious dreams in 2017, which showcases music that resembles the current incarnation of somesurprises, but more stripped down. From there, El-Sergany and Medina decided to bring in a bassist and drummer to round out their sound.

“What we’ve become together as a band is a combined intensity,” says El-Sergany. “None of us is like, depending on music for income or anything; it’s all just something that we devote time to out of love and wanting to make sounds that we want to hear.”

Those sounds include intense drones, ambient keyboard flourishes, and blurry, shoegaze-inspired vocals, which lean on a raw rock ‘n’ roll backbone. “We’re all into ’70s German rock bands, like Neu! and Harmonia, English psych-noise bands like Spacemen 3, and [artists like] Mazzy Star,” adds El-Sergany.

Though she writes many of the lyrics and early melody ideas, El-Sergany says somesurprises’ overall sound is the result of the combined vision and drive of the four members, who all happen to be August-born Leos.

“That’s something we joke about a lot,” she says. “Leos are supposed to be creative showmen, and also kind of shy at the same. I think that our strength is that we’re all leaders… that makes for an interesting dynamic [with] everyone really taking ownership of their parts [but] serving the whole.”

El-Sergany adds the band uses the music to process and explore certain emotional states, too, and that the often repetitious, drone-heavy nature of somesurprises’ sound comes from El-Sergany’s belief in “staying with” a challenging emotion until it can pass through you. It also comes from her obsession with certain fragments of songs and desire to hear them repeated—just like with that cassette tape from her childhood.

“Listening to, you know, more traditional pop and rock music and things like that I would always really love like… just a fragment of a song or like, I’d really be listening to one part of a song, in particular, and just like wanting to hear that over and over again,” says El-Sergany. “I guess it’s also… about holding on to a mood for long enough that it actually is identifiable.”

The mood of their most recent release, 2019’s eponymously named LP, is deep introspection. On songs like the eerie, orchestral “Sometimes,” El-Sergany sings, “Sometimes I only feel shame/But not always, not always.” Meanwhile, the more stripped down ballad, “Empty Threat,” touches on the relatable notion of wanting what’s not good for you.

“A lot of the songs are meditations on things that you’re not really supposed to say out loud, but once you do, you can look at [the emotion] and decide if that’s your[s] or if that’s someone else’s. [Do you] need to hold on to it anymore?” explains El-Sergany.

At Ronette’s Psychedelic Sock Hop in Fremont on Saturday, they’ll play some new tracks off a yet-unreleased record they recently recorded with Paurl Walsh and are shopping around to labels.

“I was working on a lot of this stuff totally isolated, and then brought it to the band… it continues to have the same spirit as our last LP [but] we’ve paid more attention to bringing the best out of each player,” says El-Sergany, adding that she hopes the record will come out in 2023.

Follow somesurprises on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Kebs Talks Skateboarding, Inclusion, and Her Debut LP with Punitive Damage

Photo Credit: Clayton Hebenik

Punitive Damage, a Pacific Northwest-based hardcore punk band formed in 2018, rips hard. With a raw ferocity and a merciless attack on their instruments, their debut full length, This is the Blackout, which drops on October 14th via Atomic Action Records, rages at our decaying system.

At the center of the Punitive Damage eruption is Seattle bassist and professional skateboarder Kebs, whose passion for skateboarding, music, and social justice adds heat to This is The Blackout‘s meaningful scorch.

A longtime Seattle resident, Kebs first began learning guitar and getting interested in punk music at 12, inspired by her older brother’s collection of Green Day and Nirvana CDs. At the time, she was also starting to skateboard, a sport she says helped nourish her interest in music even further – she always takes a Bluetooth speaker with her to the skatepark, so she can jam while she skates.

“Skateboarding and music are naturally intertwined,” says Kebs, who went pro for Meow Skateboards in October 2020. “People put out skate videos and they’re edited to music… like Modest Mouse or Built to Spill come to mind, being a kid of the Northwest. I learned of a lot of bands through skateboarding.”

Through her teens and early twenties, Kebs continued pursuing her interest in music, learning a variety of instruments, and skating. While she excelled at both, she was also meeting resistance, exclusion, and loneliness as one of the only girls grinding rails or stepping on stage.

“Sometimes I’m skating and… it will pop [into] how some dude was a dick to me at the skatepark when I was a little girl and I’ll say, ‘fuck that’ and try my hardest,” says Kebs. “So, I’m constantly pushing myself to do things that feel scary. To get up on stage in front of people that might be better musicians than me, or play after a band that was fucking killing it that has way more following. I’m reminding myself that I’m strong and can do it.”

The pushback she faced as a young person also motivates Kebs to be a voice for justice and equity in the skating community, which is notoriously dominated by men—not unlike some aspects of the music community. As executive director of the nonprofit Skate Like a Girl, she works to empower girls and trans people through skateboarding. She’s also involved with Consent is Rad, an effort working bring cultures of consent to skate communities around the globe.

“I would say, in punk and hardcore culture, ten years ago people were talking about rape culture and sexual abuse, allyship, and racism. Skateboarding is a little bit slower to pick up on that, so I’ve taken some of the things that I’ve learned from punk and hardcore and brought that to skateboarding,” explains Kebs.

Vice versa, she brings her fight for social equity to the hardcore punk scene and to Punitive Damage, which she joined in 2018 after playing guitar for a band called Lowest Priority.

“Because my work with Skate Like a Girl is about creating space for women and trans and queer people in skateboarding and skateboarding has a big culture of teaching people how to skateboard, I’ve done that in punk as well,” she says, adding that she’s helped teach friends to play instruments.

Since their formation, Punitive Damage—including vocalist Jerkova, guitarist Czecho, drummer Alejandro, and bassist Kebs—has put out a few short EPs, but this month’s 13-track This Is The Blackout marks the band’s first full-length. Sure enough, issues of social equity and inclusion are topics tackled across their releases so far, particularly through the lens of Jerkova, who writes many of the lyrics and is the daughter of immigrants.

This is The Blackout also takes on other aspects of a defunct and unjust system—with roaring, acerbic emotion and a dash of hope. Kebs’ favorite track on the album, “Big Man,” explores how we “can’t afford to live, can’t afford to die” in an expensive and exploitative world. Hard-hitting “Nothing” condemns the complacency of Boomers, and “Pure Bloods/This Is The Sixth Sunrise,” draws comparisons to the present moment and the Nahua creation story in Aztec mythology, which suggests a time of massive tumult may be a beginning, not an end.

As the album drops, Kebs is proud of the entire thing and her commitment to community that made it possible.

“I feel like you could listen to the whole thing and not get bored,” says Kebs. “I think for me, it’s empowerment—and even though shit is fucked up and hard, that collectively, all we have is us. All we have is our friends and communities and the fun we create.”

Follow Punitive Damage on Twitter for ongoing updates.

Leeni Enters a Dazzling New Phase with Violet LP

When Seattle-based synth-pop artist Leeni shops for synthesizers, she finds herself looking at them and asking herself, “Are there songs in there?”

Sometimes, like magic, the instrument answers. Just a little play with a patch or a twist of the controls and suddenly, the instrument transports you into a new sonic realm.

That’s how it worked for Leeni’s new full-length, Violet, which dropped last Thursday. Her tenth release, Violet is a study of her new, expressive Prophet Rev2 synth, and a vivid portrait of the personal transformation she underwent during the pandemic isolation.

Leeni is the solo project of artist Celene “Leeni” Ramadan. Ramadan made her first-ever Leeni record on acoustic guitar in 2005, and then began teaching herself gameboy chip tune, a style of electronic music created through programming vintage video game consoles.

Leeni eventually became one of the only gameboy chip tune producers in the Seattle area, and it led her to eventually explore other types of synthesized music-making.

“I remember… buying a bunch of vintage drum machines and playing around with them and learning how to sequence and just kind of doing it by like trial and error because there wasn’t a lot of guidance,” she says.

After releasing a lot of chip tune work, including the 2007 full-length album 8-Bit Heart, Ramadan pivoted to her moody, ’60s pop-inspired band Prom Queen, where her focus remained for many years.

Then the pandemic hit. Isolated from her bandmates, returning to therapy after a long hiatus, and learning new production techniques in her new job for Prime video, Ramadan began pouring her emotions and newfound synth know-how into solo synth-pop.

“I had a studio and I would go there everyday and just work on whatever. I didn’t know what the hell was going on in the world, I just wanted to make something with whatever time I had,” recalls Ramadan.

In time, through the lens her new Prophet Rev2 synth, Violet was born. A dynamic and thrilling collection of expressive and skillfully-produced electropop songs, Violet explores Leeni’s renewed confidence in herself as an artist and producer, growing pains she’s experienced personally in the last couple years, and the beginning of a new phase in her life—an era she defines with the color violet.

On the album’s opening track, “Earthquakes,” Leeni’s lyrics explore this desire to escape the “little earthquakes” that arise in life—in her case, it’s a nod to Tori Amos’ first album, and to unhealthy mental patterns exacerbated by isolation.

“It also expresses a feeling that I was having at the time,” says Ramadan. “You think someone’s going to save you or like that if x happens I’ll be okay, but when you have these unaddressed patterns, the earthquake’s going to come.”

Likewise, on “Horizon,” a haunting track co-written and produced by Erik Blood, Leeni explores familiar feelings of distance, disconnect, and longing. “It touches on ideas about the exhaustion of prolonged hope without tangible gain,” she explains.

Aside from having used the album to help move through the difficult emotions of the pandemic era, the process of making (and sitting on) Violet helped Ramadan also better understand and embrace her creative process.

“I took so much time with these songs. I let them breathe. I wasn’t going to settle,” she says. “Sharing music is so vulnerable. I just really wanted to take as much time as [I needed] to build it right and to me all of that is confidence boosting. It is knowing that I could stand behind this work and say I absolutely cosign what I did on this record and can’t wait to share it.” She hopes to tour with Violet in the spring of 2023.

Through the emotional ups and downs of the album, there’s a real feeling of overcoming as Violet ends on its triumphant eponymous track. We’ve made it through something together—and for Leeni, who tends to demarcate phases of her life with colors, this record is a new beginning.

“I don’t have synesthesia entirely but… I have phases of my life that are different colors,” she says. “This [album] is a step into the phase of violet. It’s very harmonious, it’s regal, it’s dazzling, and to me it’s just grounded in harmony.”

Follow Leeni on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Dining Dead Bring Evocative Stranger Wages EP to Blue Moon Tavern

Sammy Skidmore and Emma Hayes, two born and bred Seattle-ites, first met and connected over their shared love of music at a local summer camp as seventh graders in 2006. Fast forward more than a decade later, and the two formed their group Dining Dead and released their multi-dimensional sophomore EP, Stranger Wages, which they perform at Blue Moon Tavern on Aug. 4th.

For Hayes, who grew up in Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood, an interest in music was encouraged by her bass-playing dad, who played in a Beatles cover band. “My dad was really into music, so like, my first concerts were Elvis Costello at a winery and Queen at the Key Arena,” she recalls.

Skidmore, a native of the Green Lake neighborhood in Seattle, didn’t come from a musical family. Instead, she discovered rock ‘n’ roll by watching Josie and the Pussycats at six years old. After that, she asked for and received a guitar from her grandparents, and as she grew, began to take advantage of all-ages venues, like Vera Project, and other live music opportunities in Seattle.

“Yeah Vera Project was huge… for me. I was always going to Vera shows, and a couple DIY venues I don’t even think exist anymore… as a super young kid,” says Skidmore.

The summer before eighth grade, Skidmore met Hayes at a local summer camp. She recalls being drawn to Hayes’s Pixies band tee and woolen leg warmers. “We became friends, and she played guitar and so did I, so I thought that was super cool,” she remembers. “And she showed me a lot of cool bands. Like I remember she showed me the Pixies and the Ramones and I was like—wow, I’m obsessed.”

The two attended a few live shows together as preteens, including The Shins at Bumbershoot and Sound Off!—a battle of the bands for youth held annually at Seattle Museum of Pop Culture—before losing touch for a while.

After high school, Hayes stayed in the area to study at Seattle Central University and University of Washington. Meanwhile, Skidmore moved around—living in New York, Dallas, and Hawaii before returning to Seattle.

“When I moved back to Seattle about three years ago, I was like, who plays music?” says Skidmore. “Emma was like the only person I remembered from my youth that played music so I messaged her on Facebook [to see] if she wanted to jam sometime.”

Casual jamming quickly turned into writing some original material and playing at open mics nearby. Then, they added a bass player and drummer. Organically, Dining Dead—named for a quote in the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind—formed. In the years since, they’ve released January 2021’s Takeout EP, their debut full-length Medium Rare, which came out in February 2021, and now June 2022’s Stranger Wages.

Dining Dead creates reverby, moody and surf-informed alternative rock that at some points leans twangy Americana and at other points lo-fi indie. Blending the sounds of west coast and the American south wasn’t necessarily intentional, but a natural extension of the band’s history and sonic interests. Their bassist Shannon Barberry was born and raised in Tennessee, and Skidmore spent time in Dallas and Nashville, where she participated in a songwriting retreat and got into country music.

“I think it happened totally naturally, like Shannon definitely brings in some elements of that just from her own place but definitely happens naturally for me,” agrees Skidmore. “Living in Texas, I finally got exposed to country music in a way that wasn’t judgmental. I feel like in Seattle we’re like ‘oh, country’s so stupid,’ so finally listening to country and really being exposed to it in the country scene in Dallas was huge for me.”

For Skidmore, who does a lot of the band’s songwriting, the storytelling aspects of country and folk imbue Stranger Wages with a bit of southern hospitality.

The opening track, “Spaghetti,” for instance, brings a little spaghetti western to the table—as Skidmore tells the melancholy story of desire and wanting, punctuated with echo-y octave slides and twisty riffs on guitar, reminiscent of a guitar technique called a hammer-on more typically used in acoustic playing.

There’s also plenty of Seattle sounds on Stranger Wages, which Skidmore named after a mix-up with Social Security department called “Stranger Wages” forced her to wait more than six months for her unemployment money during the pandemic. Though the mishap gave her more time to write, tracks on the EP like “Gatekeeper” are saturated with the sort of aloof vocals and intense, building guitar you’d hear from MTV-unplugged Nirvana.

Though now gainfully employed at an art gallery, Skidmore, and Hayes, who’s a teacher, would love to make music their full-time gig—since it consumes their free time anyway.

They recently played their first-ever Capitol Hill Block Party, a popular festival in the Seattle area where many new and emerging bands get discovered and gain traction. Now, they’re playing two notable local shows—August 4th at the Blue Moon Tavern with with Ha Vay and August 12th with OH MY EYES and Zookraught at Conor Byrne Pub—in August, and the group is already planning and writing songs for their next project.

“We’ve already started writing new stuff. I’m always writing songs – it just kind of depends what makes it to the top and what we end up liking as a band,” says Skidmore. “We have some goals for the next project, so [drummer] Bogie [Pieper] and Shannon, the rhythm section, they’ll make the groove and then Emma and I are filling in on top instead of me coming with a completed song. That’s what we’re trying right now.”

Follow Dining Dead on Instagram for ongoing updates.

MUSIQUE BOUTIQUE: JNA, Jaws of Brooklyn, Liza Minnelli, Student Nurse, Doris Troy

Welcome to Audiofemme’s record review column, Musique Boutique, written by music journo vet Gillian G. Gaar. The last Monday of each month, Musique Boutique offers a cross-section of noteworthy reissues and new releases guaranteed to perk up your ears.

Put on JNA’s debut EP, I Have Good Taste But For Some Reason I Like You, close your eyes, and you might feel you’ve been transported back to the era of hypnotically blissful ‘70s numbers like “Love to Love You Baby,” “Funkytown,” and “Le Freak.”

“Tell Me Why” gets the party started with a toe-tapping hook, keeping the beat going with its strutting bass and insinuating synthesizer. JNA’s voice is cool and clear, musing in about her inability to get over a lover whose presence she senses everywhere; there’s also a teasing quality to her delivery that suggests she’s not that anxious to move on – and why should she be? But in “Only You,” she sounds more vulnerable, heartbreak lashed to a snappy beat. The dreamy “Freak” is a whisper of seduction, an invitation to a night of commitment-free fun. “I Need You” has the same pulsating energy as Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love,” in a song of steadily percolating desire. Here’s hoping that on her next outing, we get the full-length album treatment.

They might be based in Seattle, but the Jaws of Brooklyn wanted to soak up the kind of Southern blues you can only absorb by actually visiting Muscle Shoals, Alabama – the region that’s home to the legendary Fame Recording Studios and Muscle Shoals Sound Studios, as well as Sundrop Sound, where they laid down their debut album, appropriately titled The Shoals.

It’s the more forceful numbers that make the biggest impression. The opening track “Give It a Try” has the thick, chunky sound of 1960s soul pop, all fuzzy guitars and organ, with vocalist Lindsay Love standing in for Dusty Springfield. “Forever and a Day” mixes the effervescence of the Supremes with slices of garage rock guitar. “Sugar Sugar” is light and sweet and “Fever” is smokey and smooth. The perfect songs for a sizzling summer.

Liza Minnelli’s record setting run at Carnegie Hall in September 1979 (with all eleven shows selling out) was documented on the 1981 double album Live at Carnegie Hall. Now a newly expanded CD reissue, Live in New York 1979 (Real Gone Music), offers both the original album and the complete show, the latter released in its entirety for the first time, in sparkling remastered sound.

Minnelli was at her peak as a vocalist during this decade. There’s a terrific version of “Some People” from the musical Gypsy, which featured some of Stephen Sondheim’s best lyrics (“Some people sit on their butts/Got the dream, yeah, but not the guts”), and will make you wonder why Minnelli has never been offered the role of Mama Rose. “Arthur in the Afternoon,” from her 1977 musical The Act, is also cheeky good fun. And of course you get “Cabaret.” But she also taps into modern pop, with a snazzy rendition of James Taylor’s “Everybody Has the Blues” and a lovely version of Melissa Manchester’s “Come In From the Rain.” The three CD set displays this consummate song stylist at her best; there’s also a shorter two LP set on luscious red vinyl.

In the eyes of the outside world, the Seattle music scene of the early 1980s had nothing going on. Ah, but that would be overlooking the innumerable smallish bands who came together, released a few tracks, then sank into oblivion. Such as Student Nurse, founded by Helena Rogers, who moved to Seattle in the late 1970s, bought a guitar, took lessons from the same man who taught Bonnie Guitar and Nancy Wilson, then joined musical forces with her then-husband, drummer John Rogers. Think For Yourself: Seattle Tour 1978-1984 (Salish Sea Records) features the handful of tracks the band released at the time, and eighteen songs that remained in the vaults until now.

It’s spirited, spiky, punky new wave, with forays into funk and ska; check out that swingable dance beat in “Discover Your Feet,” about the joys of walking once the oil reserves have dried up (though most vocals are by Helena, it’s bassist Joe Harris on this one). “Tough Guy in the Lab” has a similarly nervy energy about creepy laboratory goings on. “Bad Gossip” skips with giddy pleasure, and you sure wish “Sperm Bank for the New Order” had lyrics. Compiling the CD inspired the band to give their first show in 38 years; good to have them back, however long it lasts.

Doris Troy is best known for “Just One Look,” her biggest hit, which she also co-wrote under the name “Doris Payne.” Her first album, Doris Troy Sings Just One Look & Other Memorable Selections, is a solid set of 1960s-era soul and R&B, with Troy co-writing most of the tracks, including such treats as the musical mash-up “Bossa Nova Blues” and slow, pleading “Lazy Days (When Are You Coming Home?).” You can pick it up on newly reissued green vinyl from Real Gone Music.

Lolli Morlock Brings the Heat on Debut EP from New Seattle Supergroup Hell Baby

In 2015, the give-no-fucks garage punk of Mommy Long Legs stole the hearts of Seattle underground music fans, many of whom knew every line of the band’s anti-capitalistic anthem, “Assholes” (and even now, Mommy Long Legs’ 2018 song, “Call You Out,” has become a viral hit among twenty-somethings on TikTok).

Despite the major love for the group, the band had a bad break-up in 2018, convincing Lolli Morlock, a driving member of Mommy Long Legs, to take a long, self-imposed break from music. But on May 21st, 2022, Morlock ended her musical seclusion with All Babies Go To Hell, the debut EP from bratty post-punk Hell Baby, a four-piece outfit for which Morlock is a dominant songwriting force.

Hell Baby was born in 2019, when Morlock began regularly jamming with new friends like Sylva Helgager (of The Carols and Plexi), after her workdays tattooing at Bad Apple Tattoo in Seattle’s International District.

“I found a lot of my identity and myself in Mommy Long Legs. Not having that anymore was really such a shock to my system and it took me actually years to feel confident playing music again,” says Morlock. “I thought for a long time that I wouldn’t be able to have that with another band, but slowly I started jamming and playing music with Sylva.”

Eventually, Sidney, a drummer Morlock knew from Everett-based band Sleepover Club, and guitarist Spencer Johndrew, who is also co-founder of the band’s label Youth Riot Records, joined the jam. Soon, the foursome began writing songs together and decided to form a band, which they named after one of the cheeky cherub tattoo Morlock drew for flash event at her tattoo shop.

At the same time, crediting the pandemic’s isolation with giving her more time to look inward, Morlock entered therapy to process a recent romantic relationship that had re-triggered a lot of her childhood trauma and trust issues. Her personal journey over the last few years brings a depth and unguardedness to the EP’s lyrical content, primarily written by Morlock.

“I’ve never come from such a vulnerable place when I’ve done any songwriting. It’s always been a joke or a half-joke, or talking about in Mommy Long Legs these like big structures we’re trying to dismantle and shout about and this is way more personal to me,” says Morlock.

On the bouncy opening track, “Pink Convertible,” Morlock directly calls out her ex’s lying, shout-singing, “You said you don’t/Lie but it goes to show/I’m driving in my car alone,” which she imagines as her dream car—a pink Cadillac convertible.

On “Hell,” the band’s first-ever song, Morlock’s lyrics—disjointed and chaotic at times alongside a repetitious and uneasy guitar melody—conjure the feeling Morlock would get during their arguments.

“We started writing ‘Hell’ just out of a jam, so [I heard] that little bass riff and then I came up with that windy guitar part,” remembers Morlock. “Then that sort of evoked this spirally feeling that I get when I’m upset and triggered.”

Though the songs have become more personal for Morlock, they still bring the heat. On “100%” for instance, the energy throughout is high and the snark is palpable as Morlock’s girlish voice lilts over a heavy, driving lick in the bass and guitar, and builds to a deranged shout at the chorus. With the lyric, “Consent/To terminal occupation/Consent/Subliminal violation/Consent/Was written in application/Consent/The value of your ambition/No less than 100%,” the garage-y banger calls bullshit on the capitalistic mindset that’s filled Seattle’s streets with Yuppies and hyper-modern townhomes.

“That one was just sort of an ironic take on like, the 9-to-5 workday and how you’re supposed to be investing every single ounce of your energy into the system,” explains Morlock, adding that the band plans to put out a music video for the song, featuring the members of Hell Baby as ragged, coked-out corporate shills completing a business merger with four sex dolls.

Such a wacky scene encapsulates Hell Baby’s devilish sense of humor—which saturates All Babies Go To Hell—and the way the band members support each other’s creative whims. It makes the EP a very cohesive and fun listen.

“I have never felt so open playing music with a group of people before. First of all, we have a hilarious dynamic with one another. We have a lot of chemistry as a group and we really balance each other out. If I have an idea, people are down to explore it,” says Morlock. “We’re all coming at it with out own vulnerability and we’re all trying to heal. When you can really connect with a band and like, have a method of [writing together] that feels good for everybody, then that’s really special and pretty rare.”

Hell Baby plans to go on a mini West Coast tour down to Humboldt County this summer and to release a full length within the next year. In writing the new album, Morlock says she’s got every intention to continue to bring in more of her personal life. After all, we’re each walking through our own brand of hellfire.

“I was always worried about being vulnerable in that way in my music but… the world is so utterly fucked up and so blatantly in our faces right now that like, it’s kind of like, well who gives a fuck?” she said. “I’m just going to say how I feel.”

Follow Hell Baby on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Rat Queen debuts fresh evolution on new single “Circle the Drain”

Photo Credit: Andy Perkovich

Most groups disband when a key member moves away. But that hasn’t been the case for Seattle’ Rat Queen, the alt rock brainchild of songwriting partners and best friends, Jeff Tapia and Daniel Timothy Desrosiers.

“My friendship with Daniel is hilarious and unconditional and the most fun and affirming partnership I’ve ever had,” Tapia says. Born organically from that friendship, which has long been about making music together and laughing at “really fucking dark shit,” Rat Queen released their hard-edged pop punk debut LP Worthless in 2018. Shortly after, Desrosiers moved to Los Angeles to pursue a passion for film, but the two worked to maintain their close-knit songwriting partnership long-distance, while also dialing in the line-up of their dream band.

Still chock full of punk irreverence, high energy and dark humor, “Circle the Drain,” the first single off their forthcoming sophomore LP Generational Decay, gives listeners a peek in to a new iteration of Rat Queen, featuring an expanded sound and fresh cast of musicians.

While it was hard when Desrosiers moved to Los Angeles, the two kept up their writing over Zoom, even through the pandemic. Tapia also kept up with the band – just a bass player and drummer at the time, with Tapia on vocals and guitar. But as the pandemic continued, the pair realized that the group, their songwriting, and who they were themselves, had evolved. The songs they were writing called for more instrumentation than their three-piece would allow, and it felt organic to move in that direction.

“I started tracking instrumentals right when I moved to LA, so like October of 2018 or something like that, and then I tend to write in a more maximalist way if I’m writing for myself. I was sending these new tracks to Jeff being like, uhh more instruments?” remembers Desrosiers – namely, they were hearing more synth lines and lead guitar.

So the two pursued adding some fresh faces to the band, eventually settling on drummer Paul Davis, bassist Ana Von Huben, guitarists Jordan Brawner and Sean Leisle, and Naomi Adele Smith on keys. John Adams, a.k.a. Johnny Unicorn, was also a key contributor as a bassist and producer, helping Rat Queen bring the polished sound they’d been hearing in their heads to Generational Decay.

Worthless is beautifully lo-fi and both Jeff and I wanted something that sounded a little crisper and a little more hi-fi. [I was] really reaching the threshold of my talent or my ability as a mixer and I wasn’t quite getting it to where I wanted it to be,” says Desrosiers. “We asked Johnny to do it and I was like, this is incredible.”

This new line-up also frees Tapia to just focus on their vocals—which soar on the new record and in performance like never before.

“It’s hard honestly to manage a band of six people and also practice guitar all the time and singing all the time,” explains Tapia. “[Focusing on singing] really frees me up to be as energetic as I want to be on stage.”

Tapia, who also writes much of Rat Queen’s lyrics, says a renewed focus on their mental health, and just generally maturing, has also brought a lot of oomph to their approach to Rat Queen.

“Daniel and I weren’t even planning on starting a band. It just sort of happened. At first we were just like, let’s go out and be seen and be drunk pieces of shit – that’ll be so fun! That’s where we were in our lives,” says Tapia. “But I’ve grown into this more – I’ve just matured so much more… As I grow and I change, this writing style that I have also grows and changes with me.”

Darkly ironic in the face of Tapia and Desrosiers’ sunny self-actualization, “Circle The Drain” explores a decidedly jaded (and hilarious) George Carlin bit that Desrosiers, who wrote the lyrics for the song, has considered more and more in the last few years.

“There’s this interview with George Carlin before he died obviously. He was talking about how he had essentially checked out from society. He doesn’t vote, he doesn’t have strong opinions on politics or society as a whole and he’s explaining a term—CTD,” says Desrosiers. “Circle the Drain, like when there’s no hope of saving a patient and you’re just trying to make them comfortable because they’re circling the drain.”

With a laugh, Desrosiers says the term fits the state of the world right now—with, in no particular order, the burden of inflation, all the microplastics in our food, and the gall of Boomers to blame millennials for our inability to get ahead, they thought it was an apt time to use CTD in a song.

Tapia, coughing into the phone after taking a hit on their bong, agrees, adding that it feels like we’re all just trying to live as good a life as possible as the world burns down around us. That’s why they decided to name their sophomore album (which drops August 26th) Generational Decay.

“Honestly you guys, can I tell you a secret? ‘Generational Decay’ is something someone at my work used to describe when you cross genomes together a bunch of times in weed and it’s not even an official term, it’s just something my coworker said and… I thought it sounded relevant,” says Tapia. “I just like that it invokes imagery of like younger generations getting less and less.”

But, that isn’t to say the pair is willing the world to end, either. On “Circle The Drain,” Tapia sings, “But fuck man, I hope I’m wrong, I’ll eat crow,” again reiterating that a dark sense of humor is part of what keeps them both afloat during hard times.

“I think we’ve both been through some pretty horrible stuff and have been able to make jokes about it. Laughing with each other, to the point where it’s hard to breathe, about horrible things that have happened to us, is really fucking beautiful.”

Even if humanity goes down the drain, Tapia and Desrosiers know how to mop up the mess with a laugh and a screamin’ good song. Catch their release show for Generational Decay August 26th at Clock-Out Lounge with local powerhouse groups Actionesse and Black Ends.

Follow Rat Queen on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Seattle’s Brittany Danielle Lets It All Go on Latest Single “Hindsight”

Photo Credit: Jasmine Novak

For Washington State University music program graduate and lifelong piano player Brittany Danielle, music is not a new occupation. But after spending years as a student of the classical and jazz greats, she’s only just started to write, perform, and record music that is entirely her own. Today, Danielle releases “Hindsight,” one of the self-penned singles off her forthcoming debut LP, Hindsight. Recently, Brittany Danielle sat down with Audiofemme to discuss the heartfelt, piano-driven track, inspired by the pandemic, Black Lives Matter protests, and the personal struggles that she endured during quarantine.

Interview has been edited for length and clarity

AF: Before I dive into this new single, I want to hear a bit about your background. Did you grow up in Seattle or did you move here? 

BD: I grew up in the Pacific Northwest. I was born in Bellingham and then I went to school in Eastern Washington at Washington State University (WSU). Then, I decided to go to Seattle for bigger and better things. 

AF: What did you study at WSU? 

BD: I started off with piano performance. I was homeschooled for high school and then I went to community college to get my 2-year degree and then I transferred to WSU. I did all my pre-reqs and stuff at the community college and then transferred to WA State and I did music. There was an adjudicator that I had worked with through high school, Dr. Gerald Berthiaume, who taught at Washington State University and he recruited me.

Halfway through I was like, I don’t want to do classical music anymore. What else is there? Have I wasted my whole life trying to do classical music? And another teacher, Horace Alexander Young, he started a jazz improv class and I just decided to do that and it changed my whole life.

AF: How so?

BD: I was stuck in this classical bubble that was really hard. It was really hard on the artistic side of you because you’re not making something your own – [you’re playing] some dead guys’ music and then getting judged for it. There are not a lot of women represented in that genre.

AF: Yeah, there’s something about classical music and white male supremacy, isn’t there?

BD: 100%. I didn’t even know that Scott Joplin was Black for a long time. I studied his music and I had no idea. I was like what? How is this not an integral part of teaching this man’s music? 

AF: Right! So what did you switch to?

BD: I switched to a Bachelor of Arts in Music with an emphasis in piano performance because I already had that going and also an emphasis in piano pedagogy and I got a minor in jazz. And I was so excited about that minor because I went to my counselor and I was like, what do we got, and she was like you have a minor in jazz and I was like way more excited about the minor in jazz than the major.

AF: Before college, what drew you to the piano? 

BD: You know, I’ve been racking my brain to answer this question because someone else asked me this recently and I just don’t remember before. Like, I know that I started piano when I was about 7, and I know that I had a life from 0-7, and I remember things about my life during that time, but I also forget that there was no piano during that time. My mom just said that I was very adamant about it because my neighbor was moving and they couldn’t take their piano and I was like, ‘I want to learn how to play.’

AF: Are your parents musical? 

BD: My dad played blues guitar and I joke about this because my dad will listen to NPR in the car all the time and I was like, ugh, blues, NPR, bleh, this is so boring. And now I can’t get enough of it. I listen to “Sunday Side Up” and all that.

I wasn’t into blues or jazz at first because I though it was for old people but it was definitely an integral part of my musical upbringing. I leaned a lot more towards the jazzy Beethoven pieces or like Joplin or Mary Lou Williams.

AF: And your mom? 

BD: She can sing. She won’t say she’s musical, but she has a good voice.

AD: How did you become aware of piano-driven pop, which inspires your writing today? Are you a Billy Joel fan or did you listen to a lot of that kind of stuff? 

BD: I was obsessed, and when I say obsessed I feel like that’s still too light of a word, with Ray Charles as a kid. I saw him on the Pepsi commercial and I was like who is that and how do I play like that? 

AF: What was it that drew you to Ray Charles?

BD: He’s so cool. He had sunglasses. I didn’t know he was blind at the time. I just saw him wearing sunglasses and he’s just so chill at the piano and he just looks so comfortable versus how I had seen people play piano as uptight, stressed out classical performers. I was like, this is such a radical change to what I’m used to and I want to play like that guy. 

AF: Obviously, as you mentioned finding our way from classical to jazz to your own music has been a journey. Are there any challenges that stick out to you along the way?

BD: There was definitely that change in college between classical and jazz, and trying to balance both. I found out there was a huge disconnect with both of those worlds. It was political, like you’re on one side or the other and I was like, it’s all music. I need all of this to know how I’m going to regurgitate it through my lens later.

AF: That reminds me, was songwriting a part of your musical background?

BD: I had written in pieces. In a lot of the jazz classes that I took, we would write charts. So, I had learned how to write melodies and chords but then separately I would write lyrics to things that never met melodies. I kept them in separate notebooks in separate boxes. Completely separated. This album is what got me out of this period of disconnect, and a funk I was in after college.

AF: What instigated the funk? 

BD: I was just angry. I was so pissed that I had spent all this time doing this thing I loved and I didn’t love it anymore. I was just enraged I spent all this time playing this classical crap and feeling like I was being judged for not playing some dead guy’s music properly, or putting too much of my interpretation on it. But I loved this craft so much that it became a rebellious act to start playing again. My first couple songs were really angry. They weren’t very good but they were a start and they were angry just towards that institution. 

AF: It’s cool that you’re exploring songwriting and trying to find your own voice brought you out of that moment of anger. 

BD: It’s absolutely a therapeutic thing, playing music. I was like, a steaming kettle, aaaah, and then I felt better and I was back to playing piano every day and writing. 

AF: So, tell me about this song in particular, “Hindsight.” Can you remember the day you wrote it and what was happening for you? 

BD: It was during pandemic and it was also during the height of the Black Lives Matter protests. It was an interesting time, also as an artist who wasn’t playing music at all. I was noticing internal unrest around not being able to have access to the music community. I had started a Facebook group with other singer-songwriters and once a month we’d write a song together and perform it for each other and try to hold on to something. So that was a song that came out of that.

I was really married to the piano line—it was something I had doodled on the piano. But I couldn’t sing this song for a long time. I still cry. Halfway through I’d fall apart. It’s mostly about watching the world respond to a pandemic, watching the US respond to a pandemic, and being cooped up and having to face real problems because you’re not distracted with work and bills and all the other things that distract you from things that matter. I was also noticing the unrest inside of myself and [asking,] how do I move through this at all? So that’s where the “let it go” part comes in and like, how to process everything I guess. 

AF: Is this an overarching theme for the album, too? What are some common themes on it?

BD: I think lyrically a lot of the feel is I’m an independent woman and you can’t control my decisions. There’s a song about a roommate that I had… It’s called “Validation,” so the lyric is “I dont need your validations and I don’t trust a word you’re saying.” It’s between my battle with my own mental health and the decolonization of my religious upbringing. There’s also another one called “Rent” and it’s about negative thoughts living in my head rent-free and removing them and getting stronger and growing from that.

AF: So you were raised Christian? When did you separate form the religion?

BD: When I was about 9 my parents went a little bit crazy and we were only allowed to wear dresses – my sister and I were only allowed to wear dresses and when I was 13 I was like, look, if I get my own job, can I buy my own clothes? My dad was like, sure, whatever, and so that was kind of the start of my breaking away and finding an identity through how I presented myself.

I bought myself a pair of Union Bay jeans and a maroon crop top t-shirt and I wore the crap out of that outfit. I would also go buy CDs. I bought the Titanic soundtrack, Jewel, Alanis Morrissette, Nine Inch Nails—because I thought that was really rebellious—and Nirvana. You know, a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. 

AF: Do you still have a relationship with your parents? Were they upset that you left the church? 

BD: We didn’t really talk about it for a while. It was kind of an unspoken thing. I didn’t tell them until after they got their vaccines, when my mom and dad came over for Mother’s Day. It was the first time I had seen them in a while, I was six mimosas deep, and I was like, “Look, I don’t want to pretend this is a thing anymore. I don’t want to pray in my house, I don’t want to be polite about going to church services that I don’t want to go to because I don’t believe in it and I don’t want to continue participating in something that I don’t subscribe to and I will respect that you guys will still subscribe to it but I need you to respect that I don’t anymore.”

AF: Wow, that must have taken a lot of strength to say. 

BD: Yeah. It was very hard. My dad said, okay. And my mom said, thanks for saying that, thanks for telling us, and then that was it. We didn’t talk about it anymore. 

AF: That’s a pretty transformative moment being seen for who you are by your family. 

BD: For sure. Yeah, it was huge, very huge. I think that comes out in “Hindsight.” There was all of that outside noise going on and internally I was like, oh, there’s a lot of stuff that I need to deal with. Now I’m here by myself with myself and now there’s a lot of things that I need to address. 

AF: When does your LP come out? 

BD: My LP comes out on June 24th, and I’ll have a release show that night at Conor Byrne in Ballard.

AF: Are you still performing and teaching? 

BD: I’ve retired from teaching to pursue this Brittany Danielle project full-time. During that dark period I mentioned, I was teaching still but I wouldn’t play the piano. I think it was like that until I wrote these songs. I was was like, “Hey, you got stuff to say.”

Follow Brittany Danielle on Instagram and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Belltown Bloom Festival Returns to Seattle to Highlight Diverse Artists

Maiah Manser // Photo Credit: Anna Azarov Photography

Delayed two years by COVID, Belltown Bloom, an all-ages festival created to bring the organizers’ favorite bands together and highlight gender and racial diversity in the Seattle music scene, returns this weekend for its second official year.

Belltown Bloom happens on May 6th and 7th at The Crocodile and at Belltown Yachtclub in the Belltown neighborhood of Seattle. The festival line-up is pre-dominantly local (except for bands like the Brooklyn-based pysch-rock band Crumb) and is jam-packed with formidable woman, non-binary, and BIPOC-led Seattle acts, including pop singer Ariana Deboo, punk rocker Haley Graves, and melancholic indie pop artist, Maiah Manser.

Formerly known as Belltown Bash, Belltown Bloom was first organized in 2019 by sisters Veronica and Valerie Topacio of local band, La Fonda, and put on at the The Crocodile, the time-honored Seattle venue where bands like Nirvana and Mudhoney have played. This year, the festival takes place at the newly-remodeled Crocodile space, as well as at the Belltown Yacht Club, a relatively new venue founded in 2019.

“[Veronica and Valerie] have a pretty diverse musical community and that shows in the bands they chose for the festival, not just in gender and race but also in age. The festival features artists across all of these spectrums,” says Nikki Barron, Marketing Manager for The Crocodile.

That said, there is definitely a particular focus on centering women and non-binary people at Belltown Bloom, and in giving gender diverse performers a safe and supportive platform for their art, which research shows isn’t commonplace.

“In 2021, Rolling Stone published an article that reported how from 2012 to 2020, women comprised a total of just 21.6% of all artists, 12.6% of all songwriters, and 2.6% of all producers. What is worse is that those numbers seem to be dropping. No one [is] telling me to go back to the kitchen or anything but the numbers don’t lie. Women and non-male genders are underrepresented and under-resourced in music,” says Barron. “I believe festivals that make intentional choices, like focusing on women, give an opportunity for the music community to have a conversation about the issue, discover artists they may have missed due to unconscious bias, and provide an opportunity for the artists that they may have been unintentionally passed over for in the past.”

For her part, Maiah Manser is thrilled to be part of a festival with such an inclusive mission—and to return to Seattle, where she went to Cornish College of the Arts and got her career off the ground. She moved to Los Angeles in 2017.

“I feel like [Seattle] was so formative to my music growth, honestly. I felt really supported in the Seattle community in general and also, it gave me such a building block for the different kind of hustle that exists here in LA,” Manser says. “I think that living in Seattle inspired me to have a more experimental approach with music. Experimental and dark and a different approach to pop music than if I had moved straight to LA.”

Manser plays the festival on Friday, May 6, on the heels of two new singles—the upbeat, minimalist “Shine,” released March 11, and the darker “I Know,” which drops today, April 29th. These two singles are the beginnings of a new EP from Manser called Third Degree, which considers relationships with the self and with romantic partners. Manser said she self-produced Third Degree, largely due to sexism she encountered in the industry.

“I’ve been starting to self-produce a lot more, so if anybody tries to tell me that I maybe don’t know what I’m talking about, I do know what I’m talking about,” she says. “When I was beginning music, I would experience a lot of men telling me that I couldn’t do something… Or things like, I can hear exactly how I want this to sound, can we please change it? And kind of being met with ‘no.'”

In light of these experiences, Manser adds that learning how to self-produce has been empowering and allowed her to escape constant underestimation as well as other uncomfortable issues – like being constantly sexualized by the men in work-related situations.

“I know a lot of women that can relate to this—feeling like a producer wants to get you into a session just because they want something more with you,” says Manser. “That one can come up and it has come up for a lot of my peers and a lot of women and nonbinary people and it’s an interesting game out there. I think that self-producing feels like it’s safe [from that.]”

In addition to producing her own work, Manser has been producing for other women and LGBTQ+ folks, in an effort to increase their sense of safety and inclusion in the industry and allow them to see their unique artistic visions through.

“I feel that [industry sexism] is changing a bit as more women have spoken out about their experiences and I think it’s important that women continue to speak out about their experiences,” says Manser.

Through featuring artists like Manser, next weekend’s Belltown Bloom festival highlights the struggles women and non-binary artists face in the music industry, and in particular, the authentic and innovative music that spills forth when diverse creators are allowed to create unencumbered by the male gaze and convention.

Barron sums it up best: “Belltown Bloom is about helping underrepresented and under-resourced artists (which are women and even more so trans and nonbinary people) bloom through an opportunity to play such a fantastic festival on some of Seattle’s greatest stages.”

Follow Maiah Manser on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates. See Belltown Bloom’s full line-up and buy tickets here.

Drummer Christopher Icasiano Brings Identity-Affirming Solo Debut to Barboza

Photos by Haley Freedlund
Photo Credit: Haley Freedlund

Anyone who thinks that the drum set is a one-trick pony surely hasn’t heard Seattle drummer Christopher Icasiano.

For more than a decade, Icasiano has been one half of the mercurial, genre-bending saxophone and drums duo, Bad Luck, and a frequent contributor to other beloved Pacific Northwest groups (including Pure Bathing Culture). Trained in jazz and improvisational music, Icasiano is unique in his ability to listen to his bandmates, his versatility, as well as his skill in harnessing the full potential of the drum set as both a backgrounding and foregrounding instrument.

His solo debut EP, Provinces, which he released in 2020 just days before the world shut down from COVID-19 pandemic, encapsulates many of the aspects that make Icasiano the person and drummer, so special. And, after several COVID-induced delays and cancellations over the last two years, Icasiano will present a re-release show celebrating Provinces on April 16th at Barboza, just a few weeks before he joins Fleet Foxes for their Summer 2022 tour. At the show, Icasiano will play the moving, exploratory record in its entirety, bringing his inventive approach to the drums, and his identity as a Filipino-American—to center-stage.

Icasiano was born and raised on the Eastside of Seattle, near Redmond, in a family that appreciated, and in his mother’s case, also played music. His parents bought him his first drum set when he was about eight years old. He continued to play throughout school, and eventually decided to attend University of Washington, where he was primarily focused in studying jazz. The tools he learned in jazz school continue to serve him, he says, but after he graduated, the elimination of rules and limits allowed Icasiano to more freely express himself—and embrace who he is.

“Coming out of UW, I think there were a lot of things that changed for me in that I was starting to get into music that wasn’t necessarily jazz, but improvised music,” he explains. “And that was definitely speaking to me a lot more because I was finding that I could be expressive in ways that felt less restricting, as well as being able to draw on a lot of other musical influences that I could put into that type of improvising.”

As he found himself musically, Icasiano says he still struggled with his identity as a second-generation Filipino-American. It isn’t shame, he says, but that the expression of his cultural roots almost always existed at home, in a vacuum. And, out in the world, he never felt like he fit in.

“I grew up in a Filipino family and was around Filipino things at every family gathering and in my everyday life. I didn’t really have Filipino friends or community outside of that, so it was an interesting experience for me in that my Filipino-ness only existed at home,” he says. “Outside of that it was just like, most all my friends for my entire life are white and have been and I had very few people I could [relate with about] being Filipino or even just about being Asian.”

Hence, for many years, Icasiano says he struggled with “not feeling Filipino enough” but he let those questions about identity simmer. Meanwhile, he played more solo drum shows.

[Provinces] came kind of in different phases. For many years, I was playing solo drum performances and I was just kind of improvising with loose thematic ideas and I started thinking compositionally about how to approach a solo drum set and the different ways that drums can be applied to music in kind of unconventional ways,” says Icasiano.

From there, Icasiano applied for a couple of arts grants—and, as he wrote those grant proposals, his desire to better understand and contextualize his Filipino-American identity resurfaced.

“When I wrote the grant proposals they were really centered around exploring how to convey my cultural identity in my music and I do it through the drums in this way,” he recalls. “I ended up getting these grants so… I was able to go on a little writing retreat and [spend time] figuring out all of the melodic and harmonic material for the record.”

Sitting on the drum throne or at the keyboard, Icasiano says his mind was only on the music, but slowly, over the many months that the compositions were written, he noticed a stronger grip on himself and his artistry emerging. It helped too, that right after he finished the bulk of the record in 2018, he took his first trip to The Philippines, where he received more creative inspiration for the record and more understanding of his roots.

“My partner Jenny had suggested getting some field recordings in The Philippines and incorporating that into the music that I had recorded. What a perfect full circle thing to do, to write this record that is really about identity and connecting with culture and then finally getting the opportunity to go there shortly after that and being able to bring back a sonic artifact that I could then put back into the music,” Icasiano says.

Provinces, in its final form, is as tumultuous and triumphant as any successful quest for self-knowing is, as it takes snapshots of Icasiano, and the drums, from several different angles. At one point, his snare is soft and meandering like a flute, at other points, his sticks fall with sharp syncopation, ferocious like a Black Sabbath lick on guitar.

Auxiliary percussion, ambient keyboard, arranged and performed by himself—as well as his field recordings of subtle ocean sounds and the business of a Manila market—also bring a lushness and layered poignancy to every track. The mood aligns with how Icasiano feels reflecting on the project.

“There was so much of me up until [this release] that was like, ‘Oh, I have to do this record in this way to prove that I’m Filipino… After I put this record out, it felt really good to be able to put out a piece of art and music that was solely my own vision and to be like, oh, I don’t actually need to prove anything to anyone,” says Icasiano. “I am Filipino, even if grew up in Redmond and didn’t have Filipino friends. Even if I don’t speak Tagalog. Even if I’ve only been to the Philippines once when I was 33 years old. That’s all part of the experience of Filipinos around the world and it doesn’t make me any less so. I think it really did help me find more confidence in my own artistry.”

Follow Christopher Icasiano on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Seattle Listening Party Premiere Interactive 3D Music Video “Find Ur Grind”

Jena Pyle has designed a music video like no other for “Find Ur Grind,” her recent collaboration with Jack Uppling’s solo project, Seattle Listening Party. Beyond writing the lyrical content and singing on the track, Pyle, who is also a professional illustrator and designer, created a fantastical and interactive lofi-meets-vaporwave 3D space in which she, Uppling, and other musicians on the track sing and dance in elaborate outfits designed by artist Janelle Abbott. By clicking and dragging in the frame of the video, listeners can move 360 degrees around a vibrant, cloud-covered room; on the walls, Pyle installed rainbow-arched doorways, realistic metallic flower planters, gold pillars, and several framed screens with performance clips.

The incredibly unique and interactive video is one of several music videos Pyle’s made for her own band, Sundae Crush, and other local bands like Tacocat. But, Pyle concedes, this is perhaps the most complex one she’s ever designed. “I went to school for design, but I taught myself 3D,” Pyle says. “I watched a lot of tutorials on creating a 360 room and a lot of the trainings. There’s a lot that went into it.”

What’s more, while there are a few other 3D videos out there (like the work of Blake Kathryn, one of Pyle’s favorite 3D artists), “Find Ur Grind” is one of the only music videos that uses this technology.

“Jena worked very hard on the video with Izaac Mellow and I love how it turned out,” says Uppling. “I’d never really seen a 360 room video before and I think it’s perfect for the song.”

Sure enough, the upbeat track paired with the original video offers listeners a really fresh and exciting way to experience the music and the concepts “Find Ur Grind” explores.

Pyle’s lyrics describe the hamster wheel of the of “rise and grind” culture, or the capitalistic idea that your value is first and foremost defined by what you can bring others, and bucks against it—mirroring a very real shift Pyle’s been going through in her personal life.

“I just realized I was giving my time to things I didn’t love or things I didn’t think were going to help me grow as a person,” she says. “So I started to really think more about the time that I had and how precious it was and started setting more boundaries with the things that I was going to allow in my life.”

For Uppling, it’s also a symbol of their perseverance with the project during the pandemic. “I haven’t often been very satisfied with the way my songs have turned out in the past, but this one is different,” he admits. “I really appreciate Jena working on this one with me for so long, throughout the pandemic. Receiving new files from Jena in 2020 were extremely helpful in getting me through the year.”

Uppling moved to Seattle from Ann Arbor, Michigan in 2016 with his band The Landmarks. For the next three years, The Landmarks played shows throughout the city, getting to know other artists and bands. But in 2020, when The Landmarks decided to go their separate ways, Uppling continued to make music on his own and set out to work with more talent from the rich community he’d become a part of. Inspired by the mixtape-style collaborations of groups like Gorillaz and Daft Punk, Uppling formed Seattle Listening Party with the intention to stretch himself creatively and collaborate with more local musicians.

“It’s nice to be able to release electronic and modern classical stuff on my own, but I’m mostly excited about working with different vocalists and musicians. This project allowed me to just do whatever and have fun with people,” explains Uppling.

In 2019, Uppling had already written the music for what would become “Find Ur Grind,” but The Landmarks never got around to playing it. In fact, he had five previously-written songs in the vault that he hoped to shop around and record with collaborators.

One of the first collaborators Uppling approached was Pyle, who was immediately drawn to the demo version of “Find Ur Grind” that Uppling had laid down with engineer/producer Dylan Wall (Great Grandpa) and Razor Clam drummer Jess Bierhaus in 2019. Pyle brought her own colorful sensibility to the track, which Uppling says was initially “inspired by coffee, skateboarding and Lisa Simpson.”

With the success of “Find Ur Grind,” Uppling plans to release other tracks as Seattle Listening Party, including one track with artist Tylee Toyoda from The Landmarks/All Star Opera on drums, Abbey Blackwell from Alvvays on bass, and Laja Olaiya and Alyssa Clarke on vocals, as well as another track featuring Lena Farr-Morrissey from Coral Grief. Eventually, Uppling plans to create an EP or LP of these collaborative tracks.

For her part, Pyle is just happy she got to be involved and make the video, a passion project that reflects her intention to protect her time and enjoy herself more.

“I just wanted to create a really fun music video,” she says. “I didn’t want to overthink it. I wanted engage with my friends, [wear] cool outfits, play around and dance around—to just have fun.”

Follow Seattle Listening Party on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Pop Punk Haley Graves Finds Herself on Sophomore EP Over

Twenty-one-year-old Haley Graves, who self-defines as a Black Queer Pop Punk Artist, has found herself—but it’s been a tumultuous journey.

Adopted from birth, Graves, who is mixed race, grew up as one of the only non-white kids in a small, sheltered town in Maine—an upbringing that made it hard to claim and understand her identity fully.

After moving to Seattle to study music at Cornish College of The Arts in August 2019, Graves began working avidly as a session musician, and in 2021, dropped her debut EP, She Thinks My Pop Punk Is Cringey. On the heels of these big moves, the artist has become more secure in herself and her identity as an artist, and she’s excited to share that confidence on her sophomore EP Over, which drops today.

Growing up in South Bristol, Maine, which is 97% white, Graves says she didn’t really realize that she was Black until she was about 13. “Everybody would touch my hair without my consent. It was a thing. It’s still a thing when I go home and like, when I push people off me, they’re like, ‘Um, why can’t I just touch your hair? What’s your problem?'” says Graves. “What if I just came up to you and started petting you?”

At that point, the gears started turning, and Graves became more aware of what made her different—her Blackness, as well as her bisexuality. Around this same time, Graves was also really into Justin Bieber. She credits the pop star with getting her into guitar.

“I was just in love with him! It’s so embarrassing to admit because I’m so pop-punk now. It’s embarrassing to be like, this teeny-bopper pop star got me into guitar,” says Graves. “He played a little bit. The occasional pop star amount, the occasional G-A-C-E-B chords, the cowboy chords. But you know, he was cute, so everyone was like oh my god, he’s so hot. You know what I’m saying?”

She laughs at how far her childhood adoration of Bieber and Disney Channel stars like Selena Gomez took her—to identifying with the Latina and Black members of the pop girl group 5th Harmony and finding the yin to her bad girl yang in a 5 Seconds of Summer cover of the Green Day hit, “American Idiot.”

“That’s when it all shifted, when I found Green Day,” said Graves. “At 13, I felt kind of misunderstood [and] I wanted to project this bad girl image.”

Though Graves is much more gritty punk these days, she still brings the innocence and exuberance of those early pop influences to her music, particularly on her debut. Songs are short and consonant, as all ear-worm pop should be. This is particularly charming (or cringey) depending on your relationship with Y2K-era Top 40 rock bands like Green Day, Good Charlotte, and Avril Lavigne—but Graves knows and owns that.

“I wrote ‘She Thinks All Pop-Punk is Cringey’ right before I turned 20 about my Republican [ex-]girlfriend. She made fun of my taste in music quite a bit,” says Graves. “I had a conversation with a few friends and I was like, yeah, my girlfriend thinks pop-punk is cringey, and I immediately looked at them and was like, hey guys, I got to go, I’ll be right back, and I just started writing. I remember looking at the closet like flannel, she doesn’t like my flannel, she doesn’t like my Neck Deep tee, and I was like, okay that’s going in the song. I was so excited about it. I remember playing it for like everybody at Cornish, like, guys, I just wrote a song, I’m so proud of it.”

She’s also proud to lead with the fact that she is a Black, queer artist in a typically white-dominated genre, recognizing the opportunity in her unique perspective. “It’s not really heard of in the pop-punk scene. Pop-punk is very white. Male driven. So being Black and queer is two different things people don’t know much of,” she points out.

Palpable confidence leads to experimentation on her new release, Over, which features stretches of spoken word and more vulnerable autobiographical confessions and was co-written and produced by Grammy-nominated producer-composer Phill Peterson.

If Graves’ debut was about chasing the girls, Over, she says, is more about being chased—which nicely encapsulates where she is in her personal development and career.

“Last year, I kind of made a very big entrance in the Seattle music scene [with my debut EP]. I woke up one day and everybody in Seattle knew who I was and that was intense,” says Graves. “It’s empowering… I think I’ve started to figure myself out as an artist.”

Follow Haley Graves on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Caitlin Sherman Faces Challenges Big and Small with “Up The Street, Diving Down” Video Premiere

For Seattle songwriter Caitlin Sherman, 2020 was supposed to be a transformative year for her music career. She’d just recovered from two break-ups—of her band, Evening Bell, and of her relationship that anchored that band—and recorded her transcendent debut solo release, Death to the Damsel, which she dropped like a Valentine to herself on February 14th, 2020.

Then, just as she was getting on the road to tour with her original psych-country album, the pandemic ended her release tour and forced her to turn back for Seattle.

“It was heartbreaking to be on the road and have to turn around after so much planning had gone into my album release year. And it quickly became very clear that playing music and performing was my coping mechanism for a long history of depression and past trauma,” she tells Audiofemme. After coming to that realization, Sherman decided to make 2020 transformative in a different way than she’d planned—she started addressing her mental health and really assessing the reasons she makes music.

“I was able to take a step back and reflect,” she remembers. “At the start there was this deep sense of dread. Why is music even important while the world is falling apart? Will people even miss live shows? Is art important?”

Setting out to answer those questions and determined to make the best of her botched release year, Sherman found ways to be there for others (and show up for herself) with her art. In that spirit, she’s releasing the never-before-seen video for “Up The Street, Diving Down,” a single from Death to the Damsel, with Audiofemme today.

“Up The Street, Diving Down,” which Sherman wrote after the end of her long-term relationship, is a story of doing the sensible thing and staying in—despite the urge to go out and do shots with your old flame.

“I really hadn’t been single my entire adult life. So at 34, I was learning how to navigate that and also process the two back to back romantic/creative partnerships I had,” she explains. “The joke is that when old ladies say they are going ‘sailing’ they mean they are going to garage sales. So when I say ‘diving’ it means going and drinking at dive bars [when] the subject of temptation is in your neighborhood at the bar.”

Characterized by Sherman’s cheeky vocals and moaning Telecaster, the song captures her tongue-in-cheek desperation: the lyrics cleverly describe pouring salt in the doorway and even locking herself “into her nightgown.”

The concept for the video is similar, showing Sherman “left to her own devices,” distracting herself from temptation. Videographer Ryan Jorgensen shows Sherman in several charming and relatable scenes—playing chess with herself at the dining room table, bouncing on her bed with a hairbrush microphone, embracing a plastic mannequin on a velvet couch.

Written before quarantine was in full swing, the song now holds even more resonance for Sherman and listeners—as we’ve all become masters of finding unique ways to stay entertained in our homes in the COVID-era. For the video, which Sherman filmed while housesitting for her friend Brent Amaker (of Brent Amaker & The Rodeo) in 2021, Sherman says they wanted to play with that shift in the idea of staying in.

“To lift my spirits at the year anniversary of my debut album, I asked permission to use his house as the setting for the video. And boy, did we use it as much as possible. [We did a] twelve-hour shoot [in] multiple rooms, and [with] costume changes,” she says. “Kate Blackstock painted the mannequins; they are meant to be my ‘companions’ while isolating. We shot some far more creepy scenes with them but that didn’t make the cut. Had to ask ourselves wait… is this weird? Our collective gauge on sanity may have been a bit off in early winter of 2021.”

Nearly two years since she first released Death to the Damsel, Sherman shares this video in celebration of the song, which never really got its fair shake—and of being recently named one of Seattle nonprofit Black Fret’s 2021 grant recipients. With the $5000 grant, Sherman is looking forward to the future and planning to use the funds to record her next album—which promises to be a doozy.

“I have songs that I’ve been collecting for the past few years for my next album. A different phase of life provided for plenty of inspiration,” she teases; she’ll perform old and new favorites when she opens for Chuck Prophet at Tractor Tavern on February 25th. “In the darkest moments of isolation and the craziness of the past couple of years, I managed to keep playing and writing. Not every day, and not without dry spells, but I pushed through as best I could.”

Follow Caitlin Sherman on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Kitty Junk Merge Glam Rock Ferocity with Unabashed Activism

Ferociously unapologetic. That’s the best way to describe Kitty Junk, the raging glam rock duo of guitarist/vocalist Ryan Lee and drummer Angie Megan. They exploded onto the scene with their first LP Converse Theory last October after spending months writing emphatic feminist rock songs in Megan’s garage. As a result of being selected as winners of the Artist Support Program at Jack Straw Cultural Center, Kitty Junk’s second full-length album will be funded by and recorded at the organization’s lauded recording studios.

In the next few months, they plan to release several new singles from their forthcoming sophomore project, Junk Punk, due out in summer 2022. Until then, fans can preview the new material at the band’s shows. On February 4th, Kitty Junk brings their glam rock activism Southgate Roller Rink with Yeti Set Go, Tin Foil Top Hat, and Shadow Pattern; on February 11th, Kitty Junk plays for a live burlesque performance from Seattle Burlesque & Cabaret Association at The Good Inn in Ballard.

The duo has accomplished so much in just a few years – and surprisingly, it all began with a casual Facebook add and a random invite to a show. “I was already debating quitting my old band and then out of nowhere, because I started adding all these musicians in the scene [on Facebook], I get a text… to go to a Sleater-Kinney concert,” remembers Lee. While catching one of their favorite bands together, Lee discovered that Megan only lived a few blocks from her in North Seattle, and that she played drums. The two started jamming regularly in Megan’s garage, and once COVID hit, they formed a bubble and kept rehearsing on Megan’s porch.

“I was like, should we just like write some stuff and hang out? The songwriting just happened and next thing I knew we already had like five ideas and we’re just laughing together and we were like, what is this? And she was like, I don’t know, it’s junk,” Lee recalls – and so, Kitty Junk was born.

As their friendship grew, Megan, a Women’s Studies professor at North Seattle College, shared her dissertation on Sabina Spielrein, the first female psychoanalyst, with Lee, sparking an impassioned and ongoing conversation between the two about feminism and the barriers women face in the music industry.

“I became obsessed with her because I found her diaries and her letters and she wrote to people like Carl Jung and Sigmund Freud from her perspective and there’s a #MeToo moment going on in there where she actually stands up for herself and it’s super fascinating,” explains Megan. “I feel like Ryan and I just super related on everything around that.” These considerations have inevitably made their way into the band’s songs and enhanced the mission of Kitty Junk.

Both Megan (who is queer and BIPOC), and Lee (who is bi and a trans woman), have experienced their fair share of scrutiny, sliminess, and underestimation in the music world because of who they are, particularly in the world of rock, which is dominated by white cis-gender men.

“It’s every show — a guy is telling me or asking me if I know how to set up my own drums and telling me that I’m not doing it correctly or something and it’s just so frustrating,” says Megan.

“I love it when I get on stage and they’re just like, oh, how many people in the band?” adds Lee. “And we’re like, it’s just us, and they say, oh, when are the guys showing up?”

It’s been so bad, that after their recent win of the Rock for Mental Health: Battle of the Bands contest on the Olympic Peninsula, they were told by some competing artists they only won “because we were girls.” But being themselves is Kitty Junk’s super power, and it blows (and changes) minds. When they get on stage, they are so completely and fiercely themselves there’s no denying them and they use that authenticity to intentionally lift others up too.

For instance, Kitty Junk DIY produced and recorded all of their debut LP Converse Theory due the unsavory experiences they’ve had with male producers and engineers. Afterward, they decided to start a popular Womxn & Audio Facebook group for womxn and non-binary folks to share and empower themselves with DIY audio engineering skills.

Additionally, for the release of their single “Rage,” which came out in 2021, they sold rage wristbands, with all proceeds going to benefit the Coalition Against Domestic Violence for WA. “We’ve seen such a spike in domestic abuse during quarantine because people are stuck together… frustrations are pent up and there’s nowhere to go and we’ve seen this 50% rise in physical abuse and emotional traumas specifically perpetrated on women,” says Megan.

“Reload,” another song off Converse Theory, was written to bring awareness to the uptick in suicide attempts during the pandemic, especially among BIPOC and queer folks.

“It’s one of those things where the personal is political. We can’t really step out of the house without it being like ‘a thing,’ and so I think that’s part of why Kitty Junk and the music comes out the way that it does,” says Megan.

“We’re writing this amazing music that we like but we also do all this activism and it’s integral to who we are,” Lee adds.

Keep up with Kitty Junk’s new releases and efforts on their website and Facebook.

Salt Lick to Reconnect with Fans at First Post-Quarantine Barboza Show

Come January 21st, five-piece exploratory rock band Salt Lick will play their first show since quarantine at Capitol Hill’s Barboza, alongside surf-psych rock group La Fonda and dream pop duo Coral Grief. The band’s raw-yet-dreamy sound has roots in an array of West Coast DIY scenes – including two of the Pacific Northwest’s most distinctive – and they’ve spent the last few years deepening their bond and collaboration.

Lead singer/lyricist Malia Seavey and guitarist/composer Teddy Keiser are looking forward to their first show back; it will be their first with new guitarist Dylan Hanwright, and the beginning of the build up to the debut LP they hope to release in 2022.

“We’re really excited. I’ve been to quite a few shows myself, but we haven’t played yet. We’re really looking forward to, you know, sharing our new lineup and we have a lot of new songs,” says Seavey.

Yesterday, they released a song called “Another Plane (demo),” for a compilation of local musicians that Tacocat and Childbirth bandmember Bree McKenna is putting together. For the compilation, McKenna asked Salt Lick to write a song based on a tarot card she pulled for them, and they got The Magician. Seavey felt a connection with the card right away.

“I’m not like super into like that area of spirituality, but, you know, it’s just about tapping into your potential and, I guess, recognizing and using your potential and power to realize goals and and dreams—especially creatively,” she said. “That just speaks to me.”

Sure enough, on “Another Plane (demo),” Seavey sings about some sort of transcendent love affair, above the driving, decisive energy of the rhythm section and guitar.

Salt Lick has been around since 2016, but Seavey’s history with in local music goes even further back, to her early adolescence spent in Olympia’s legendary punk and hardcore scene. Reflecting on her teen years there, she describes a close-knit scene ever-filled with interesting bands Seavey would often befriend and follow around to their regional shows.

“Growing up, we went to shows every weekend. I was like 14 years old when I started going and it was like a really cool, inter-generational, and really supportive and close friend group, where we’d all just hop in a car and follow [a band we liked] all over the state,” she remembers.

At the time, Seavey wasn’t yet a performer but her interested was piqued. The dream of making her own music came to fruition when she moved to Seattle to attend University of Washington (UW). After moving into the neighborhood around the school, called the U-District, she discovered one spot east of the I-5 freeway particularly dense with eclectic punk houses that frequently put on loud rock shows in their basements.

It was at one such show, at a punk house known affectionately as 5010, that Seavey first met Salt Lick’s co-founder Teddy Kieser in 2016. Keiser, too, had grown up in what he calls a “strong local scene” in San Francisco, which gave him a wide range of influences and musical experiences.

“I was fortunate enough to see a lot of great musicians growing up. Guitar bands that really stuck out to me I saw include Deerhoof and Sonic Youth,” says Kieser. “In terms of the more technical side of composing, I love Joni Mitchell. The tunings are wild and a lot of her songs have a through-line in the chord progression that outlines a melody.”

Naturally the two began collaborating—Seavey as lyricist, and Kieser as composer—and put out a recording shortly after that inspired them to build out a band. They decided to name the effort Salt Lick.

“Animals stock up on nutrients at mineral licks. It’s a metaphor for finding things we lack through making [and] experiencing art together,” explains Seavey.

Since, Salt Lick has added several more members—including bassist Ian McQuillen and drummer Kevin Middleton—and they’ve released several singles and EPs. That said, in 2022, they’ve got some surprises up their sleeve – namely, the release of their debut LP this spring or summer.

“It’s been in the works for years at this point, so it’ll be good to finally get it out,” says Seavey. “Many of the songs were written in 2018 and 2019 and then finished over quarantine times.”

Seavey says the quarantine held them up quite a bit, and that she personally struggled to stay musically motivated, even though she typically uses writing music to process her emotions about the world. Instead, she spent her quarantine making textile creations for her brand Soft Rock Goods and gardening to the sounds of rapper Lil Nas and British-Irish rock band Idles.

“I think the pandemic made it harder [to write]. I think it was really great to see a lot of peers and friends really kill it during the heart of the pandemic and put out a lot of releases and kind of tap into that. But for me, the the most exciting thing about music is sharing it and and playing it for people. And I think it was just really difficult to tap into that feeling,” she shares. Luckily, Salt Lick won’t have to wait much longer to tap into that energy again.

Both Seavey and Kieser are looking forward to rekindling their relationship with fans at the show on January 21st, when Salt Lick performs on a bill .

Follow Salt Lick on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Vocal Powerhouse Shaina Shepherd Brings Seattle Together with “Never Be Another You”

Photo Credit: Rachel Bennet Photography

When singer Shaina Shepherd was growing up in Tacoma, she savored the opportunity to watch her mom sing in church. It was there, belting on-stage with the choir, where her mother would “shine”—and where Shepherd learned what was possible for herself, too.

“I could see her be her true self,” she tells Audiofemme. “[It] got me thinking about who I wanted to be.”

Today, Shepherd’s the one on stage, drawing in joyful eyes. Since moving to Seattle in 2014, she has turned heads as the powerful lead vocalist in Seattle rock outfit, Bearaxe, in her own Shaina Shepherd Band, and most recently, as the solo performer of “Never Be Another You,” a cover of the soulful 2016 hit from Lee Fields & The Expressions.

Shepherd’s version of “Never Be Another You,” released November 18th, is the result of a collaboration between major Seattle businesses Nordstrom and Sub Pop, the work of community-minded nonprofits like Black Fret and Africatown Community Land Trust, and the talent of a cast of additional Seattle music greats. “Never Be Another You,” is featured prominently in Nordstrom’s 2021 “Closer to You” holiday campaign and will benefit the Seattle nonprofit Africatown Community Land Trust.

Doing community work that brings together and benefits Seattle musicians and beyond is not an uncommon for Shepherd. In fact, after she moved to Seattle and began to get noticed in Bearaxe, she also began to develop an in-person and live stream concert series called Artist’s Way to benefit the local music industry that had been so disrupted during the pandemic.

“It happened because [local musicians] needed a gig. Our gigs got cancelled because of the pandemic and we just ended up building our own concert. That project has kind of continued throughout the pandemic and grew and… it also gave me an opportunity to continue to work on my craft and become a better singer through the concept we were building,” she says.

Artist Way’s impact attracted the attention of heavyweights on the Seattle music scene, like Ben London, founder of Seattle’s Black Fret, a nonprofit dedicated to helping local musicians thrive and whom Shepherd had previously connected with during her time with Bearaxe.

“During the pandemic I ended up getting to work with Ben a little bit more and he’s always trying to build opportunities for artists and musicians to get work. He built an opportunity to commission a song for Nordstrom,” she says. “They saw, and were inspired by, what I was doing in my community and building programs and also the way I sing. So they built this all-star band of people who are Seattle music legends. We just got in the studio and recorded a song. And the song turned out really great. We all loved it. Then Megan Jasper at Sub Pop said… they would put it out.”

The lively and uplifting single, which Shepherd recorded at ExEx Studio and Avast Studios in Seattle, features a cast of Seattle music greats including guitarist Jeff Fielder (Mark Lanegan Band, Sera Cahoone), Michael Musburger on drums (Damien Jurado), Ty Bailie on keys (MudHoney), and mastering by Ed Brooks (Death Cab for Cutie). And, per Shepherd’s wishes, all proceeds earned from the sale and streaming of the single are going to to Africatown Community Land Trust (ACLT), a nonprofit based in Seattle’s Central District, which empowers and preserves the Black Diaspora community in the area through land ownership, development, and stewardship.

“I suggested Africatown because they have been, during this pandemic, during the protests over at CHOP, they have been really popping out to me and inspiring me to keep going, to keep moving. So I was like, my heart is telling me to get back to them and everyone agreed that they are awesome and doing great work,” explains Shepherd.

Shepherd will follow up “Never Be Another You,” with the release of her pre-recorded KEXP webcast on December 22. And, in 2022, Shepherd hopes to release a debut record with the Shaina Shepherd band, which formed after the shutdown.

“I want to put out a body of work that represents the times I’ve had through 2020. I have a whole bunch of tunes. When I was in the middle of the pandemic, I didn’t have anybody to play with. But I found these guys—James Squires, Dr. Quinn, and Nick Jessen. And you know… they’ve imbued themselves into the songs [I wrote by] myself in isolation.” says Shepherd. “So, shout out to my first band ever, and then shout out to Black Fret… and shout out to Sub Pop and Nordstrom for giving me the support that I needed to have some kind of impact. Seattle’s my hometown now!”

Follow Shaina Shepherd on Instagram for ongoing updates.

Linda From Work Rail Against Soul-Sucking 9-to-5s at Cafe Racer Gig This Weekend

Like many of us, Hilary Tusick, lead singer and songwriter of Seattle band Linda From Work, has had her fair share of shitty, soul-sucking 9-to-5 office jobs. But while many of us can only continue to seethe with our unresolved job-related bitterness, Tusick’s found some catharsis.

Her years of lukewarm coffee, dull coworkers, and email cc’s have become the lifeblood of her witty garage rock band and their last two releases—2019’s Two Week Notice, and last July’s Burnout. This Saturday, November 6th, Linda From Work will be out-of-office when they play the new Cafe Racer in Capitol Hill.

Looking at Tusick’s account of her own childhood, her unlikely journey from desk to stage makes sense. Tusick, originally from Cleveland, Ohio, says the first thing she can ever remember wanting to be was a musician.

“Even as a kid, [I was] performing Disney songs for my mom and setting up stages to perform for everybody,” Tusick remembers. “I did a lot of musical theater once I was in middle school and high school, just to have an avenue to perform. I was also taking piano lessons, guitar lessons, from an early age.”

Still, despite her dream, she says she was fairly “introspective” about her music, and went on to study English at University of Texas in Austin. Even in the “Live Music Capital of the World,” she didn’t share her own work much because, as she notes, her vibe was different. “I enjoyed that area for a while, but really wasn’t as into the music scene down there. It’s a great scene but again, I was just not meeting the exact right people for me,” says Tusick. “Then I tried Chicago for a bit, but it also wasn’t panning out in the way I’d hoped.”

She did meet her husband (and drummer in Linda from Work) Sam Nowak at University of Texas, and eventually, they decided to give Seattle a shot. Tusick says it’s the best decision they ever made. “I’ve always been really big into Riot Grrrl—Bikini Kill and Sleater-Kinney —that whole vibe. I love a lot of grunge, too, like obviously Nirvana and Sound Garden and so I [already felt] connected to music scene here,” she explains.

Sure enough, things progressed fairly quickly once the pair arrived in Seattle in 2015. Soon after landing in town, Tusick and Nowak met and begun collaborating with bassist Mary Robins, who Tusick calls their “missing puzzle piece.” From there, the band played several shows in 2018 and released their first EP, Two Weeks Notice, in February 2019.

Still, all the while, Tusick was working a mind-numbing job as an office administrator in an architecture firm to supplement her music income—but it wasn’t going well. “I don’t feel like I fit very well in the 9-to-5 corporate world,” Tusick admits. “So the first album was all about a lot of the frustrations and anxieties and difficulties of having a job like that.”

Going into the writing of their newest album, their debut full-length, Tusick hit the breaking point while still working her office administrator job. She poured it all into 2021’s Burnout. “I was working this 9-5, I felt overworked and underappreciated and I have some pretty severe anxiety and so the combination of all of that, and you know, being an insomniac on top of it all, just led me to a lot of really stressed out moments, a lot of low moments, a lot of frustration, anger,” Tusick says. “This album is called Burnout for a reason.”

Her distress is apparent on tracks like “Teeth,” which begins with a lone and unsettling guitar line and builds from there. The song chronicles a particularly upsetting experience that happened to Tusick at the height of her stress. “I was in multiple bands, I wasn’t sleeping much. I was like, okay, once I’m less stressed it’ll go away. I’ll be fine. And I kind of ignored it which I shouldn’t have, because one night, as I was just about to fall asleep, I felt something hard, like a rock or something in my mouth, and I started to wake up and feel what it is – I had bitten my back molar in half,” says Tusick. “Luckily it didn’t hurt but it was terrifying. I immediately started screaming. It’s like all those nightmares you hear about where people are losing their teeth, but this was actually happening.”

“No” is another song that stands out on Burnout, particularly because of the force and direction of the melody and the clarity and self-possession apparent in Tusick’s lyrics. According to Tusick, that’s by design—this song is all about finding your voice and learning to set boundaries—whether with a coworker or a lover.

“I feel like that song’s directed to a lot of people in my life,” she says. “I feel like personally people don’t say ‘no’ enough. You try to be nice and you’re trying to acquiesce to people but there’s certain times where I think it’s really beneficial to put up those boundaries and be like, no, I’m not going to do that. No, I’m not taking care of you. No, I’m not doing this. So I wrote that song from that place, for people over the years that I felt like I should have been saying no to.”

Still, Burnout is anything but depressing and hopeless—it’s high-energy, relatable, clever, and up-lifting. It’s the kind of music you pipe into your ears for motivation during another monotonous day at the office, and it also offers the perfect ambiance for a beer-soaked house party. Actually, the latter circumstance is actually pretty close to how they conceived their band name.

“We were actually at a Christmas party with members of my family, talking to my cousins, and [we thought], you know, we might as well just open this up and see if anybody stumbles on something good,” says Tusick. “None of them are musicians so they just kept throwing out ideas that were really metal and not the right vibe at all. So, we were like, what is the least rock ‘n’ roll thing you can think of? And one of my cousins goes, ‘Well, okay, you just made me think of this story—so the other day, Linda from work…” I was like, ‘Stop right there, that’s the band name, we got it.'”

There is definite irony in the fact that they named their band after the “least rock ‘n’ roll thing” they could think of, because Linda From Work is one of the better rock bands performing in Seattle today. Tusick says the history of the name isn’t meant to be self-deprecating; she just wanted a name that encapsulated the mundane work environment that was inspiring her musical output.

“If you have a more traditional job and you’re working around other people, there’s almost always one coworker that you’re just like, ugh, okay, I don’t need to hear about your vacation, or I’ve already seen 16 pictures of your new dog. ‘Linda From Work’ seemed like it was something that is kind of a memorable name, and something everyone can relate to, like, oh, yeah, my Linda from work is named Gloria, or ugh, Mark,” says Tusick.

Still, Tusick says they don’t plan to write about the office forever. In fact, they’re in the process of writing a new LP as we speak, with new inspiration and direction. After all, Tusick is in a much different place now that she was in the summer of 2020, when she wrote the bulk of Burnout.

“I feel very much recovered. I actually quit that job about a year ago this month. I’ve been able to take the last year luckily to focus exclusively on music and we’re already working on our new album,” Tusick says. “I’m growing as a songwriter. I think we’re even more comfortable as a band in our sound that we kind of developed with the last album. And the material—I mean, I still have anxiety, I still get angry, I still have, all the feelings. But they are directed at different things, it’s coming from different places, so it’s really exciting to explore new topics in my songwriting.”

Follow Linda From Work on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Cat Valley Lambast Music Industry Sexism on New Single “Manager”

Photo by Tommy Calderon Photgraphy

Cat Valley, a self-proclaimed “angry lady band” out of the small, bay-side Bellingham, Washington just North of Seattle, aren’t shy when it comes to calling out sexism—particularly within the music industry.

With that familiar Riot Grrl verve, relatability, and self-possession, the feminist foursome lambast crude Craigslisters, interruptive male coworkers, and even their own fathers on their new track “Manager,” a new single off their forthcoming EP Feral.

Along with being a clever, catchy, feminist banger, “Manager,” is a pertinent representation of the group’s folksier roots, and the louder, more electric sound they’ve landed on now.

“‘Manager’ is kind of an interesting song. It does start a little softer and you can hear some of our singer-songwriter-y roots in the beginning and then it gets really loud and surfy at the end,” says Abby Hegge, guitarist, vocalist and one of the founding members of Cat Valley.

Originally, Cat Valley was a duo, formed when Hegge met guitarist-vocalist Whitney Flinn in 2016 at her house show birthday party, organized by a mutual friend. “She asked my friend Tyson to book the house show for her and she and I were both playing singer-songwriter music at the time – she plays harp and I play acoustic guitar music,” remembers Hegge. “It seemed like a good genre match so Tyson got me on the bill. I heard her play and I cried, and she heard me play and she cried, and then we were like, can we jam?”

They named their band “Cat Valley” as an ironic nod to another all-male local band playing around at the time, “Dog Mountain.” “They kind of had some dudebro energy and we thought it would be funny if we named ourselves Cat Valley because it was the opposite of Dog Mountain. I did text them and asked them if it would hurt their feelings if we did that and they said to go for it,” Hegge says.

The origins of their name also complements the feminist themes that arise naturally in their collaborative songwriting. “We knew we wanted to write songs about feminism because we were both getting fed up with different things we were doing within our lives. And so, kind of through the songs being angry, that kind of elevated them to a louder place,” explains Hegge. “And then we realized we wanted them to be louder, so we started playing with more effects, started adding distortions, and then one of our friends offered to play drums for us.”

When that drummer friend had to move on, Hegge and Flinn were able to find drummer Melanie Sehman through their volunteerism with Bellingham Girls Rock Camp, a youth program that encourages social change through teaching music. Shortly thereafter, they recruited bassist Kristen Stanovich for the band, too. “Melanie was like, I’m a drummer, I like your music, let’s play,” says Hegge. “And then our friend Kristen joined the band, who is actually the partner of Tyson, the friend who initially introduced Whitney and I all those years ago.”

From there, the foursome began churning out fresh music, which they say is inspired by groups like La Luz and Sleater-Kinney, two all-women rock bands that also have ties to the Pacific Northwest and, like Cat Valley, draw from the patriarchy-bashing tradition of the Riot Grrl movement.

Their first demo, which features a cover image of Hegge’s orange cat, came out in 2016, followed by a self-entitled EP released in 2018. 2021’s Feral EP, while similar to past work, takes the themes they’ve always explored even further, and showcases how far they’ve come as a group.

Sure enough, Feral strikes a brilliant balance—it’s charmingly relatable, unabashed and bold. “Manager”—which begins somewhat sweetly before seething with rage over the intergenerational trauma of limiting gender roles by the end—is a perfect example of that.

“We were thinking about seeing our mothers feel more of the burden of raising children than our fathers and taking the kids to school and doing what their husbands say and those kinds of ideas,” says Hegge. “And we’re kind of yelling about some of our experiences that we’ve had, like Whitney getting talked over at a meeting, and a gross guy who answered one of my Craigslist ads by hitting on me.”

In fact, the title “Manager” comes from Hegge’s experience of watching her manager at Guitar Center—a woman—have to continually convince customers that she was actually the manager.

“[Customers] would come in, talking to her about something, and then she’d be like, oh yeah no this thing can’t happen, sorry. And they’d be like, can I talk to the manager? And she’s like, I am the manager. And they’re like can I talk to your manager. And she’s like, no I am the highest manager here. And they just wouldn’t believe her and would leave,” she recounts.

When asked if the band ever worries about the audience’s response to the “angry feminism” in their songs, Hegge balks. They are proud to be angry. It offers them a source of catharsis, particularly in a music industry that continually underestimates them because of their sex. “One time somebody wrote an album review of us and said it was all acoustic. We were just like, is this because we’re girls? What? There’s literally not one acoustic instrument on this album,” says Hegge. “Stuff like that.”

“I didn’t realize how angry I was – Whitney was a big catalyst for me realizing I was angry, honestly,” she continues. “She was already fired up and she’s a little older than me so she had experienced more and knew what sexism looked like and she’s very good at standing up for herself. I was like, oh wow, she’s really angry, she’s got a lot to be angry about. I bet I do too! And then I realized that I did and I was like, wow, I’ve really been playing it nice and pretending like nothing bothers me, but I don’t have to.” 

Cat Valley’s fierce and original Feral EP drops November 12th. Additionally, the group will be playing a handful of shows around Seattle and Bellingham over the next few months. Their next show (with Kitty Junk) will be at Seattle’s High Dive on October 28th.

Follow Cat Valley on Facebook for ongoing updates.

Cellist Jeremiah Moon Challenges Artistic Hermit Stereotype with Debut Single “Kinds of Light”

Perhaps it’s the gentle lilt of his voice, or his unique, interstellar moniker, but there’s something dreamy about Jeremiah Moon and his music.

As a teaser for his forthcoming 2022 debut EP Sputnik, the Seattle cellist and singer-songwriter spins a whimsical indie folk-pop dreamscape with the release of his debut single “Kinds of Light,” and its accompanying video.

For Moon, who grew up in Colorado Springs and went to school at Boston University for classical performance, releasing original music like this was always the dream—it just took him some time to realize it.

Growing up the son of a professional orchestral violinist, Moon and his three sisters all took up string instruments early—Moon started cello at age 7—and continued with the study of classical music into their adolescence. As Moon said, it was “just what we did.”

“Mom and Dad said, ‘Alright, you’re going to go practice now,’ and I was like, ‘Okay, I guess I’m going to go practice now.’ Once I was in high school, I started realizing, this is hard… but I’m grateful for it now,” Moon remembers.

He eventually decided to pursue a degree in classical performance at Boston University, and says that his time in Boston helped expose him to a variety of different musicians at the top of their craft. “It was also very intimidating,” he says. At the same time, Moon realized a career in the classical world wasn’t quite right for him—his love for music felt different. “I learned pretty quick that I wasn’t going to go get a Masters in performance and then start doing orchestral auditions. I did not feel the same things they felt about practicing and workshopping and studying and learning all the repertoire.”

After graduating, Moon took some time away from the classical music community, unsure what music path he’d like to pursue, if any. In 2013, he moved to Seattle and worked in retail for a few years—but felt a lack of direction, though he continued to write songs in private, a habit he’d developed in high school. “Later in high school I had a wild hair and I started to write some songs,” Moon recalls. “People were like, ‘Hey, this is actually really good – you should keep doing this,’ and I sort of put that in my pocket and didn’t really take it too seriously.”

Then, a new friend he met asked him a question that changed everything. “She asked me why I wasn’t taking myself more seriously as an artist,” he says. “I was forced to take a step back and sort of seriously consider questions like, what do you really want? What do you feel like you have to offer?” Not long after that reckoning, Moon re-examined his life and decided to take the pop music he’d been making for himself beyond his bedroom. Thus, Sputnik was born.

Since the fall of 2017, in collaboration with producer Adam Black, Moon has been writing and refining his debut EP. In the process of doing so, he sent a demo off to a few of his friends when Chris Mansfield from Fences heard it and liked it. He helped Moon get in contact with the Enci Records, with whom he’s now signed.

Moon decided to call the project Sputnik because the word translates as “fellow traveler” and much of the content of his debut contends with inter-relational questions brought up by the end of a previous romantic relationship. With the title, he also gets to bring in his interest in string theory and the forces of interconnectedness in the universe.

“I think I was trying… to process maybe what an ideal relationship would be like and in terms of relationships, what they’re for, and what we give to the people around us,” he says. ” I don’t really understand string theory much at all but I was told there was this concept of like every particle in the universe having some sort of relationship with every other particle – this intrinsic relationship that’s kind of unshakeable. I’m sure any scientist would cringe at me describing it that way, but the idea behind that to me is really beautiful and interesting and something I couldn’t shake.”

Moon’s debut single “Kinds of Light” stems from a few more specific inspirations, too. Namely, his love of Bon Iver and his skepticism in the romantic concept of the artistic recluse retreating into nature for inspiration. In fact, the phrase “Kinds of Light” is a reference to a hermit artist character in the footnotes of David Foster Wallace’s encyclopedic Infinite Jest. “I had this skepticism—how honest is this idea?” says Moon. “So I wanted to explore it through [my own] character.”

Moon is also a talented illustrator. He brings music and illustration together briefly with an animation he contributed to the video for “Kinds of Light.”

In the next few months as he gears up to officially release the EP, he plans to release more singles, along with videos he hopes to play an active artistic role in. He also plans to play some local shows and begin planning a tour.

“I love making music more than I ever have,” says Moon. “I have so many ideas I want to chase, different sounds I want to try on, and my goal is just to keep doing this as long as I possibly can.”

Follow Jeremiah Moon on Facebook and Instagram for ongoing updates.

Hollis Premieres Self-Directed Video for Latest Solo Single “Let Me Not”

L.A.-via Seattle singer, songwriter, and spoken word artist Hollis Wong-Wear, known simply as Hollis, is redefining herself and going solo. Until now, Hollis has been best known for her contribution to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ 2013 debut GRAMMY-nominated album, The Heist, with the song “White Walls,” and for her role as front-woman of popular Seattle group, The Flavr Blue.

But, come 2022, Hollis releases her debut solo full-length—an alt-pop album entitled Subliminal, which she wrote and recorded almost entirely during the pandemic. Today, Hollis premieres her third single from the forthcoming album, “Let Me Not,” a vibrant-yet-melancholy track that marks Hollis’ first collaboration with Ryan Lewis since their work on The Heist.

“Let Me Not” also marks one of the first music videos she’s ever directed—something she’d like to do more of going into 2022. “I have a lot of interests as a filmmaker,” says Hollis. “Between my work directing the ‘Let Me Not’ video and thinking about like moving forward with the other videos, I want to make sure they’re artistically cohesive.” 

Hollis, who is originally from Petaluma, CA, grew up immersed in the Bay Area’s spoken word and underground hip hop scenes, which played a big part in the trajectory she’s on today as an artist.

“I first sparked my own original creative work by being in spoken word poetry and slam poetry through an organization called Youth Speaks,” says Hollis. “When I was growing up in high school, there was the hyphy movement and Bay Area hip hop in general, underground rap, [with artists like] Hieroglyphics and DJ Shadow. That really was exciting to be a part of as a young person.”

After high school, Hollis moved to Seattle to go to Seattle University, where she studied history. When she wasn’t hitting the books, Hollis followed her passions for spoken word and music and found herself spending more time on her own creative work than she did in the Bay Area.

“I honestly didn’t make music myself until I moved up to Seattle. I sang in choir and performed in musical theater and stuff like that,” she remembers. “I was a performer but I wasn’t a songwriter by any means until I started my first band up in Seattle with my friend Maddy, which was called Canary Sing.”

Through performing with Canary Sing, networking within the slam poetry community, and hanging out at some of Seattle’s biggest hip hop hubs, like Hidmo, a now-closed Eritrean restaurant and bar that hosted regular hip hop events, Hollis got to know the pair that would soon become the biggest names in Seattle hip hop—Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.

“A lot of people came through Hidmo and that’s… how I ended up getting connected with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis in an official capacity. He had asked me to be the producer of a music video that would end up being [the] ‘Wing$‘ video,” says Hollis. “Basically four of us worked for months on a shoestring budget… and very scrappily made that first music video. The song wasn’t done – I actually ended up cowriting the hook of that song and working with a children’s choir to perform it. When I started working with them, I had no idea I was going to be a featured singer and songwriter someday.”

Hollis became closer with Lewis and Macklemore, and their friendship led to her eventual feature and songwriting on The Heist track, “White Walls,” with Schoolboy Q.

Since the success of The Heist a lot has changed for Hollis. In 2015, she left Seattle for L.A., where she currently resides. According to Hollis, she wanted the change in scenery to challenge her creatively—and it ended up giving her the courage to step out on her own with the forthcoming album, Subliminal.

“I don’t know if I really would have allowed myself to come into my own as a solo artist in Seattle,” Hollis muses. “I think I’ve always loved collaboration to the point that I’ve been dependent on collaboration and it’s scary to be a solo female artist. It’s freaky. And I think I didn’t feel I needed to do that in Seattle because I was like, oh I’m already this personality, people know who I am, I have this band. The challenge wasn’t really there for me to do my own solo thing and I didn’t know how to do my own solo thing.”

Starting over in L.A., Hollis realized the solo artist inside her needed nurturing—and by February 2020, Hollis released her first solo EP half-life, a tender-hearted, intimate 5-song project. Then the pandemic hit, thwarting Hollis’ plans to tour with Half Life. She took her YouTube series Hollis Does Brunch completely virtual to benefit those impacted by the pandemic. And she dove into writing the songs that would become Subliminal.

While creating Subliminal, social distancing took away her ability to collaborate in the traditional ways, so, with the exception of “Let Me Not,” all the songs on the new album were written remotely over Zoom with her collaborators. After making the album in this way—which she says felt bizarre and isolated at first—Hollis feels more confident in who she is as a solo artist. That new-found self-possession saturates “Let Me Not.”

“Figuring out how to collaborate with people remotely [meant finding out] how to feel really solid with myself and be literally alone writing, which definitely shaped the way this album came out,” she says.

“Let Me Not” is the only song Hollis recorded in-person—negative COVID-19 tests in hand—with Ryan Lewis, and is one of the most personal songs on the album. “That song was very much ripped from my journal,” she explains. “I was doing a lot of journaling towards the later half of 2020 and the chorus refrain, ‘let me not bring down the vibe,’ was just literally something I had written in my journal three days before our session.”

Now transformed into an upbeat headbanger with a sneaking, ominous keyboard line, the song and its video depict Hollis, obviously feeling weighed down by the heaviness of the world as she knocks her “head on the wall all night” and “feels like throwing herself out the window.” We see the artist’s helplessness and confusion as she sits in an empty theater, lies alone in the grass, and performs a house show with an angry grimace.

In the end, she doesn’t want to “bring down the vibe” by being honest and open about her emotional state and the state of the world—even to herself—a notion that captures the pain, anxiety, fear, and descent into numbness that has gripped many of us since March 2020. That said, the track is anything by upsetting— its honesty makes the listener feel a little less alone.

Why get so existential, even political, in a pop song? Hollis points to her long history of social activism and volunteerism and her firm belief in using her platform to promote social change and awareness. As is evident in “Let Me Not,” as well as another recent single “Grace Lee,” about Chinese-American social activist Grace Lee Boggs, writing pop music is not about Hollis’ ego, but about making a positive impact on the world.

“I’m not super excited about the premise of building my personal brand. If it’s for a larger purpose and I can do so to encourage connectivity, that’s when I feel most empowered and excited about the work,” says Hollis. “I love pop music and I think what really motivated me to come to L.A. was that I’m very passionate about my personal politics and about learning and how I can integrate that into [my music]. There’s so much potential in popular culture to shift and create change.”

Follow Hollis on InstagramTwitter and Facebook for ongoing updates.

Bovian Benefits Seattle Venues With Music Doc Tour Around Town

In August 2019, Tommy Clark, known by his artist name Bovian, said goodbye to his soulmate, Chris, who was terminally ill with a rare form of blood cancer. About a week before Chris passed away, in a rare moment alone in the hospital room, Chris shared his dying wish.

“The day after we got the really bad news that there was nothing else that could be done and that he was just going to die, we were having a conversation and he told me, ‘I really want you to pursue a career in music because that’s your passion,'” Bovian says.

He took this wish seriously. Though Bovian self-identifies as a “standard issue, nine-to-five guy” at his employer Microsoft, he threw himself into building his musical persona, creating what would become his first album, Dom Bovian, and eventually, participating in forthcoming project Tour Around Town, a music-based film that features performances from Bovian and other musicians, and is designed as a fundraiser for small Seattle venues in need. The video is officially set to release for free viewing on Vimeo and YouTube, October 8th.

In all honesty, Bovian’s foray into music and live performance has been a long-time coming. For decades, Bovian has been writing songs and playing for himself—a practice he began as a kid growing up in Buffalo, NY.

“Buffalo was a very impoverished city. It was, you know, fairly dangerous,” says Bovian. “There wasn’t a whole lot to do that didn’t involve gangs or whatever. So I just kind of secluded myself. I was very introverted and I was really into music. I started playing and writing music around nine or ten, and my parents kind of knew, but they weren’t really interested. It was my big secret for a long time.”

Growing up in the ’90s, he was particularly enamored with grunge, and dreamed of moving to Seattle to participate in the vibrant music scene. “I had a very romantic notion as a budding musician on the other side of the country that I would move to Seattle one day and be a musician one day and life would be so cool,” he recalls. “So, five years ago I decided to move in that direction and I moved out here.”

Still, Bovian says it wasn’t until Chris passed away that he realized his full dream of becoming an artist in Seattle—just in time for the pandemic to hit and thwart his ability to perform. “My first public performance in front of people was actually at my partner’s memorial. I wrote a song for his eulogy and played it on the ukulele,” Bovian says. “Then, I ran into a pandemic where I couldn’t perform.”

But he was determined not to betray his word to Chris. He decided to start performing on rooftops and closed venues and invited a few other musicians to join him to make Tour Around Town, a music movie of their performances to benefit small, independent venues in Seattle who he saw struggling during the pandemic.

“Necessity was the mother of invention because I was like, I wonder if these venues will let us come in if we’re just in small groups and we can raise money for them? So, I just reached out to a bunch of folks,” Bovian says.

Tour Around Town takes place at several iconic music venues, including Paramount Theatre, Lo-Fi, Café Nodro and the Rendezvous, and includes performances from Bovian, as well as Yawa, a Portland-based one-woman atmospheric act that uses instrumental loops and synth, and Seattle’s luxe disco-pop act, Bijoux.

Adé A Cônnére, one half of Bijoux, says they were happy to support Bovian, who is an old friend, as they come out into the Seattle music scene. They were also eager to support small venues around town as a bartender at Pony (a legendary queer bar and venue in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood), and Re-bar (another small bar and venue near Capitol Hill that remains closed due to the pandemic).

“The loss of Re-bar was a big loss for me because I’ve seen so many shows there, so many plays there – we’ve even played there. It was kind of like my home away from home,” says Cônnére. “So when Bovian said he wanted to do this thing to benefit small venues, I was like, yeah, absolutely – we can’t lose any more.”

Bovian, who’s previously participated in a few independent film projects, began creating the film last October, which he calls a “blend of a concert and a documentary.” To tell the full story, Bovian peppered in the pandemic-era performances from each legendary venue around interviews with major players on the scene, and their thoughts on the times.

Bovian did a soft release of the video with Seattle Film Forum last April, at which point he launched the fundraiser for small venues, which is ongoing. So far, they’ve reached $20K of their $50K goal.

On October 8th, the film will be officially posted for free viewing on YouTube and Vimeo with links to the donation page. Donors can contribute directly to one of the venues by following the links provided, or if they’d prefer, they can donate to the project itself and funds will be split between all participating venues. Microsoft, as well, has pledged to match whatever money is raised.

“Once we post the film officially, we’re going to apply for licensing with Hulu and Netflix,” says Bovian. “Otherwise, we’re just going to leave it out there indefinitely and hope that people will continuously donate to these venues.”

Follow Bovian on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for ongoing updates.